May 14, 2018 11:46 PM   Subscribe

15,000 and more years ago, North America had lions, cheetahs, camels, mammoths, giant sloths[previously], short-faced bears, giant beavers and sabretooth salmon. Barring enormous advances in cloning technology, none[previously] of those magnificent beasts will walk the earth again.
But we can replicate the effects they had on the ecosystem, with Pleistocene Rewilding!

A Plan For Reintroducing Megafauna To North America

Pleistocene Rewilding: An Optimistic Agenda for Twenty‐First Century Conservation. [PDF], C. Josh Donlan, Joel Berger, Carl E. Bock, Jane H. Bock, David A. Burney, James A. Estes, Dave Foreman, Paul S. Martin, Gary W. Roemer, Felisa A. Smith, Michael E. Soulé, Harry W. Greene, The American Naturalist, Vol. 168, No. 5 (November 2006), JSTOR
Pleistocene rewilding can begin immediately with species such as Bolson tortoises and feral horses and continue through the coming decades with elephants and Holarctic lions. Our exemplar taxa would contribute biological, economic, and cultural benefits to North America
Pleistocene Park: Does re-wilding North America represent sound conservation for the 21st century?[PDF] Dustin R. Rubenstein, Daniel I. Rubenstein, Paul W. Shermana, Thomas A. Gavinc, BIOLOGICAL CONSERVATION 132 (2006)

The Pleistocene re-wilding gambit,Tim Caro, Trends in Ecology & Evolution 22(6):281-3 · July 2007  - ". Here, I summarize the multifaceted issues surrounding Pleistocene re-wilding and edge debate from hazy conceptual arguments to empirical questions that can plug gaps in knowledge and begin to resolve this divisive conservation issue."

Reversing Extinction: Restoration and Resurrection in the Pleistocene Rewilding Projects [PDF]
Yet Pleistocene rewilding, which seeks to reconstruct extinct, prehistoric ecosystems, is different again; indeed, these “wildly imaginative, even romantic”
proposals and experiments, fantastic or even impossible as they seem, make otherwise
controversial rewilding efforts seem staid and “prosaic”
Pleistocene Rewilding, Frankenstein Ecosystems, and an Alternative Conservation Agenda, Luiz G. R. Oliveira‐Santos Fernando A. S. Fernandez, Conservation Biology, 15 January 2010

Is the Climate Right for Pleistocene Rewilding? Using Species Distribution Models to Extrapolate Climatic Suitability for Mammals across Continents, Orien M. W. Richmond , Jay P. McEntee, Robert J. Hijmans, Justin S. Brashares, PLoS ONE, September 22, 2010

Rewilding, John Carey, PNAS, January 26, 2016
In a landmark 2005 commentary in Nature (3), the group laid out what it called a “bold plan for preserving some of our global megafaunal heritage.” The
idea was to bring to North America Asian asses, Przewalski’s horses, Bactrian camels, Asian and African elephants, African cheetahs, and yes, African lions, all being the closest living relatives of creatures that had vanished from the Americas. The workshop also led directly to establishment of a breeding population, on Turner’s Armendaris Ranch, of one Pleistocene epoch creature, the Bolson tortoise, to bolster the small remaining population in Mexico.
Future or Foolish?

Call of the Rewild
The trees aren’t likely to get there on their own. Joshua tree seeds are borne in fleshy green fruits that are eaten by everything from insects to crows. The only critters that carry the seeds any significant distance are packrats, which typically cache seeds a few dozen meters from the tree where they find them. But thousands of years ago there was a better option: giant ground sloths. During the last ice age, the sloths roamed the territory that would become the Mojave, and they ate Joshua tree fruit — we know this because Joshua tree seeds turn up in preserved sloth dung. Then the ice age ended and humans arrived and, caught between the changing climate and the new, tool-using predators, the ground sloths went extinct. So now people who care about Joshua trees, like conservation biologists, talk seriously about “assisted migration” to transplant the trees to more suitable climates. But what if we could bring back those sloths?
posted by the man of twists and turns (30 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
[whistles Jurassic Park theme under my breath]
posted by Quackles at 12:50 AM on May 15 [10 favorites]

Wasn't Lake Missoula caused by giant beavers? #TheTruthIsOutThere
posted by XMLicious at 2:30 AM on May 15 [6 favorites]

Great post. But I’m going have nightmares in which sabretooth salmon walk the Earth again.
posted by Segundus at 5:22 AM on May 15 [8 favorites]

Something that can take down a 2 tonne automobile would be really hilarious. Giant robo-sloths! Short-grilled robo-mammoths! Oh, wait, I think I've played this game. nnnnnn nevermind.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:43 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]

Damn Pleistocene Camelops are in the barley again!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:50 AM on May 15

The actual benefit of these schemes seems to be that they would require large areas of open land and easily-accessed migratory corridors between habitats, changes to the landscape that would benefit all species. They also talk about predator reintroduction, which also has great ecosystem benefits.

What the links I read (some, but not all, so I may have missed the key ones) did not discuss is that tribes play a large role in conservation in the western US (e.g., tribal treaty rights-based lawsuits, serving as watershed and landscape co-managers, etc). The articles I read took the 1492 date more as an abstract philosophical point, without considering that pre- versus post-colonization ecological conditions have particular meaning to tribal sovereignty. The pre-conquest landscape in the Americas was man-made; if the people living here had wanted to have lots of megafauna they wouldn't have killed most of them off. They also managed and encouraged populations of other megafauna (eg bison) that then suffered after colonization.

Anyway, I have a lot of sympathy and agreement with the pro-pleistocene ideas, but I hope that some of the writers are considering more nuanced historical pictures and pathways to ecological restoration.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:12 AM on May 15 [14 favorites]

This is why I've been propagating species like Osage orange and Kentucky coffee bean trees that were the mega-fauna's favorite treats and have seeds that are adapted to only properly germinate if they pass through the digestive tract of an herbivore large enough to consume their seeds.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:25 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]

Isn't the idea to reintroduce an ecological balance from before *any* human contact? Europeans didn't cause the megafauna extinction, that was all pre-Columbian peoples.
posted by Think_Long at 6:26 AM on May 15

I'm looking forward to new episodes of Mutual of Omaha's Rewild Kingdom. Especially the episode where the hungry Bear gets the surprise of his life when the Sabre Tooth Salmon decides to eat him.
posted by evilDoug at 6:28 AM on May 15 [6 favorites]

"Nice giant beaver!"

"Yes, I just had it megafaunized..."
posted by tommasz at 6:52 AM on May 15 [13 favorites]

There really is no good reason to re-lion North America.
posted by lstanley at 6:59 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]

yes, this is in fact the dream
posted by poffin boffin at 7:05 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]

I didn't read all the links to see if the Buffalo Commons is mentioned, but we've still got megafauna around and a whole lot of plains for them to roam in.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:27 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]

Yeah, see, saber-toothed sloths and giant woolly whatevers, all very cuddly, but then they'll want to do the same in South America, and then theirs will migrate north again, and before we know it, we'll have terror birds...

posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 7:41 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]

I had previously focused my desire on a post-oil mammoth ranch (who doesn't want a wooly forklift?), but now my business model is all Lake Missoula Giant Beaver Lumbermill...
posted by ikahime at 7:54 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]

AzraelBrown, I came to say the same thing.
I might be interested in a Pleistocene Rewilding, but we couldn't manifest the Buffalo Commons if our lives depended upon it. And the Buffalo Commons would be awesome. It would finally make Texas someplace worth being.

Also, I chatted with the pronghorn population of Southern Wyoming and they would very much appreciate it if we didn't in any way attempt to reintroduce pseudo-cheetahs. Their life has been ever so much simpler without having big cats that can match their speed.
posted by Seamus at 8:01 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]

Growing up in a particular American religious tradition I was given a completely different idea about the history of the early inhabitants of the Americas. I think it was Guns, Germs, and Steel where I first read about the mega fauna in North America and Clovis man.
posted by ShakeyJake at 8:18 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]

Something that can take down a 2 tonne automobile would be really hilarious.

Good news, everyone!
posted by Huffy Puffy at 8:29 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]

The 10th Regiment of Foot, I have an "anachronistic trees" project that includes pawpaw, kentucky coffee tree, honey locust, and osage orange. Perhaps we should start a newsletter. :)
posted by which_chick at 8:34 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]

Good news, everyone!

meanwhile, mooses.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:43 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]

Europeans didn't cause the megafauna extinction, that was all pre-Columbian peoples.

No, climate change and resulting habitat change caused megafauna extinction.
posted by JamesBay at 8:44 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]

ikahime's business model just cries out for its own folk-song chronicle: The Lake Missoula Giant Beaver Lumbermill Calamity.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:04 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]

No, climate change and resulting habitat change caused megafauna extinction.

Good point, I forgot that the over-hunting hypothesis was more of a wild theory than anything else.
posted by Think_Long at 9:07 AM on May 15

Nah, current evidence suggests it was both. Not specific to the Americas or anything, just... climate change + human incursion maybe = megafauna extinction. See e.g.:
But “it’s not a slam dunk that humans are responsible for the entire [megafaunal] extinction,” says Jessica Theodor from the University of Calgary. As other studies have shown, it can be hard to parse out the effects of human hunting, climate change, and the big changes that ecosystems undergo when big mammals start to disappear. All of these things often occurred simultaneously, and compounded each other. Still, as Kaitlin Maguire from the Orma J. Smith Museum of Natural History puts it, “while it’s thought that the megafaunal extinctions were a result of a one-two punch from shifting climate and human influences, this work demonstrates that the human punch was strong.”
Anyway this is a cool collection of articles, thank you!
posted by peppercorn at 9:47 AM on May 15 [11 favorites]

Barring enormous advances in cloning technology, none[previously] of those magnificent beasts will walk the earth again.

...and now I am sad that I will never get to see Kristen Bell reacting to seeing a sloth the size of an elephant.

(I kinda picture it like a combination of Laura Dern in Jurassic Park and, well, this)
posted by namewithoutwords at 9:50 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]

the human punch was strong

one liter white rum
two liters lemon-lime soda
juice of one human
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:38 AM on May 15 [5 favorites]

if the people living here had wanted to have lots of megafauna they wouldn't have killed most of them off.

Anthropogenic extinctions are often unplanned. No one wanted the passenger pigeon extinct. Perhaps giant sloths were delicious .
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:09 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]

Perhaps giant sloths were delicious .

They ate lots of avocados. I've tasted avocado fed pork and goat and they were delicious.

A few hectares of avocado were abandoned for decades outside Guadalajara, local restaurant let pigs and goats roam free during avocado season. I hear that avocado fed livestock is a new gourmet thing.

I've also eaten the meat of mango fed cows. Underwhelming.
posted by Index Librorum Prohibitorum at 3:28 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]

juice of one human

- what size human
- how do you know when it's ripe
posted by poffin boffin at 8:56 PM on May 15 [5 favorites]

how do you know when it's ripe

You have to juice it before the skin starts to wrinkle.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:09 PM on May 15 [4 favorites]

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