Research shows that rewilding large animals can alleviate the decline of the ecosystem

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The greater one-horned rhinoceros has been reintroduced into the wild. Credit: XTBG

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The greater one-horned rhinoceros has been reintroduced into the wild. Credit: XTBG

A successful one-horned rhino reintroduction program has been implemented in Nepal in recent decades. However, few studies have examined functional recovery after reintroduction.

In a study published in Biological conservationResearchers from the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and their collaborators are investigating the impact of the reintroduction of the greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) on the recovery of their ecological function, especially their interactions with other mammals and birds through their manure (latrines).

The research was conducted at two locations in Nepal: Chitwan National Park, which has a stable rhino population, and Shuklaphanta National Park, where a rhino reintroduction program was conducted from 2003 to 2018.

The researchers investigated whether the reintroduction of rhinos had restored the ecological function of rhino latrines as a food source for other animals.

They placed camera traps in the two parks. They monitored visitors to 30 rhino latrines in both parks for 669 camera trap days between 2020 and 2021. They then compared the species richness and number of visitors of mammals and birds interacting with the rhino latrines between the two sites, and recorded how often animals entered the latrines and visited their latrines. behavior on them.

They found that there were no significant differences in the species richness of latrine visitors or in the frequency of most behaviors in the latrines, despite large differences in rhino abundance between sites, as well as differences in the size, quality and certain nutrients of the latrines . . Animal visits were higher where rhinos were reintroduced, confirming that latrines are an important and limited resource.

They observed four mammal and four bird species using rhino dung to feed on insects or plants growing around the dung; two other mammal species interacted with latrines only indirectly.

“Our study provides strong evidence that rewilding rhinos can restore the function of latrines as nutrient hotspots for other organisms. Therefore, the reintroduction of large animals can mitigate ecosystem decline,” said Chen Jin of XTBG.

More information:
Balram Awasthi et al, Restoring ecological function: interactions between vertebrates and latrines in a reintroduced population of rhinoceros unicornis, Biological conservation (2024). DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2024.110611

Magazine information:
Biological conservation