In an earlier posting I briefly mentioned George Monbiot’s current fascination with the concept of rewilding and provided a link to an animated video he had narrated. As my first year lectures on species interactions and community structure have come to an end, one of the students on the course has pointed out that George has recently narrated another video called “How Wolves Change Rivers”, which deals with the effects of the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in the USA. Following a 70 year absence, the presence of the wolves resulted in a trophic cascade which significantly changed, in a positive way, both the biodiversity and the functioning of the Yellowstone ecosystem, as well as aspects of the physical geography of the National Park, notably river behaviour.
It’s only a short video (four and a half minutes in length) and I strongly recommend that you watch it. Not only is it powerful in its imagery and its music, but it’s also underpinned by some powerful, peer-reviewed science. For example see this review by William Ripple and Robert Beschta, from Oregon State University, of the positive effects cascading from the presence of wolves in just the first 15 years following reintroduction.
At the end of my lecture on Thursday I showed the video to my class and the response was very positive; the students seemed to be impressed and I hope it brought home the importance of what I’d been talking about this term, that ecological interactions matter. Given the flooding problems we’ve experienced in Britain this winter, some of which seems to be related to how our rivers and flood plains are (mis)managed, perhaps there’s a case to be made for reintroducing wolves, bears and beavers to the Somerset Levels or the Thames Valley. Given that these areas lie in the heartlands of Conservative and Liberal Democrat voting, it’s not likely to happen under the current coalition government. But we can dream.