Reconstructing lost ecosystems: a risk analysis framework for planning multispecies reintroductions under severe uncertainty

Katie Peterson, Megan Barnes, Cailan Jeynes-Smith, Saul Cowen, Lesley Gibson, Colleen Sims, Christopher Baker, Michael Bode

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
31 Downloads (Pure)


1. Reintroduction projects, which are an important tool in threatened species conservation, are becoming more complex, often involving the translocation of multiple species. Ecological theory predicts that the sequence and timing of reintroductions will play an important role in their success or failure. Following the removal of sheep, goats and feral cats, the Western Australian government is
sequentially reintroducing 13 native fauna species to restore the globally important natural and cultural values of Dirk Hartog Island.
2. We use ensembles of ecosystem models to compare 23 alternative reintroduction strategies on Dirk Hartog Island, in Western Australia. The reintroduction strategies differ in the order, timing, and location of releases on the island. Expert elicitation informed the model structure, allowing for use of
different presumed species interaction networks which explicitly incorporated uncertainty in ecosystem dynamics.
3. Our model ensembles predict that almost all of the species (~12.5 out of 13, on average) will successfully establish in the ecosystem studied, regardless of which reintroduction strategy is undertaken. The project can therefore proceed with greater confidence and flexibility regarding the reintroduction strategy. However, the identity of the at-risk species varies between strategies, and
depends on the structure of the species interaction network, which is quite uncertain. The model ensembles also offer insights into why some species fail to establish on Dirk Hartog Island, predicting that most unsuccessful reintroductions will be the result of competitive interactions with extant species.
4. Synthesis and applications: Our model ensembles allow for the comparison of outcomes between reintroduction strategies and between different species interaction networks. This framework allows for inclusion of high uncertainty in dynamics. Finally, an ensemble modelling approach also creates a foundation for formal adaptive management as reintroduction projects proceed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2171-2184
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Applied Ecology
Issue number10
Early online date8 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


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