Rewilding ecological communities and rewiring ecological networks
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Rewilding encompasses management actions such as reintroductions and translocations with the purpose of restoring ecological processes and ecosystem functions that were lost when species were locally extirpated. The success of a species introduction is conditioned by multiple factors, in particular, ecological interactions. To predict the fate of the introduced population and the community-level outcomes of the introduction, species interaction patterns need to be considered. Here I propose that ecological network models can help in rewilding projects in at least three ways. First, combining ecological information and probabilistic models it is possible to infer the most likely ways whereby the introduced species will integrate the community and which will be its role in the topology of the food web. Second, by determining the species more likely to interact directly or indirectly with the introduced species, it is possible to identify those species that may affect the success of the introduction and those that are more likely to be affected. Third, by constructing potential interaction networks representing the rewilding scenario, one can infer the possible ways by which the overall structure of the network will change and thus devise more efficient plans to monitor the community. Network models can be an important asset in rewilding, helping in feasibility and risk assessment as well as in monitoring the consequences after species release.