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Rein­tro­duc­tion of Eurasian lynx to Scot­land step closer due to inno­v­a­tive modelling

pub­lished 30 March 2019 | mod­i­fied 30 March 2019

Experts have used an inno­v­a­tive approach to model the pro­posed rein­tro­duc­tion of the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) to Scotland.

Lynx lynx

Researchers used state-​of-​the-​art tools to help iden­tify the most suit­able loca­tion for lynx rein­tro­duc­tion in Scot­land — and how this choice might affect the size of a pop­u­la­tion and its expan­sion over sub­se­quent decades. Sig­nif­i­cantly, they believe their model will inform and enhance decision-​making around large car­ni­vore rein­tro­duc­tions worldwide.

The study pub­lished online on 28 March in the jour­nal Bio­log­i­cal Con­ser­va­tion was led by Uni­ver­sity of Stir­ling PhD researcher Tom Oven­den as part of his Mas­ters in Envi­ron­men­tal Forestry at Ban­gor Uni­ver­sity, with sup­port from the Uni­ver­sity of Aberdeen.

Rein­tro­duc­ing large car­ni­vores is often com­pli­cated and expen­sive, mean­ing that get­ting things right first time is extremely impor­tant. There­fore, advances in mod­el­ling approaches, as utilised dur­ing our study, are extremely valuable.

Thomas S. Oven­den, School of Nat­ural Sci­ences, Ban­gor Uni­ver­sity, Ban­gor, UK

Oven­den added, “Our research con­sid­ered sev­eral pro­posed rein­tro­duc­tion sites, show­ing how these mod­els can be used as a safe and rel­a­tively inex­pen­sive way of assess­ing the suit­abil­ity of rein­tro­duc­tion pro­pos­als and pro­vid­ing the evi­dence required to inform decision-​making at an early stage. Recent advances in both eco­log­i­cal the­ory and mod­el­ling approaches have made the incor­po­ra­tion of indi­vid­ual species’ com­plex behav­iours in novel envi­ron­ments more real­is­tic. We applied this approach to the poten­tial rein­tro­duc­tion of Eurasian lynx in Scot­land — and demon­strated the power of this new, sophis­ti­cated model. Our research demon­strates the poten­tial of this approach to be applied else­where to help improve rein­tro­duc­tion suc­cess in large car­ni­vores, from the safety of a mod­el­ling environment.”

The lynx is thought to have become extinct in the UK dur­ing the medieval period, around 1,300 years ago. In recent years, its poten­tial rein­tro­duc­tion has been widely debated.

Using cur­rent land cover data, Oven­den con­ducted an ini­tial desk-​based study to estab­lish the cur­rent loca­tion and extent of suit­able for­est habi­tat for lynx in Scot­land, updat­ing his­toric work. Fur­ther research to iden­tify the demo­graphic and dis­per­sal char­ac­ter­is­tics of the lynx else­where in Europe, pro­vided the model with the nec­es­sary parameters.

The team used this infor­ma­tion to inves­ti­gate the suit­abil­ity of three pro­posed release sites: the Scot­tish com­po­nent of Kielder For­est, in the Bor­ders; Aberdeen­shire; and the Kin­tyre Penin­sula. They used the model to assess how the lynx would estab­lish a pop­u­la­tion, spread and colonise new habi­tat from each poten­tial rein­tro­duc­tion site over a period of 100 years.

The results showed that Scot­land pos­sesses suf­fi­cient, con­nected habi­tat to offer a real­is­tic chance of pop­u­la­tion estab­lish­ment and that some sites are more suit­able than others.

Lynx distribution Scotland modelMaps show­ing how a lynx pop­u­la­tion may move across Scot­land, and colonise forested habi­tat, if a rein­tro­duc­tion occurred on the Kin­tyre Penin­sula, in Kielder For­est or in Aberdeen­shire. The mod­els depict the aver­age year of first coloni­sa­tion for each habi­tat patch.
Image credit: Uni­ver­sity of Stirling

Of the three sites con­sid­ered, the study indi­cated that the Kin­tyre Penin­sula was the most suit­able, with the pop­u­la­tion spread­ing across the High­lands in the 100 years fol­low­ing release. Sig­nif­i­cantly, the Cen­tral Belt would act as a bar­rier to coloni­sa­tion between the High­lands and South­ern Uplands pro­vid­ing evi­dence for two dis­tinct habi­tat networks.

This ini­tial research is encour­ag­ing and sug­gests that Scot­land is indeed eco­log­i­cally suit­able for the rein­tro­duc­tion of Eurasian lynx — but this suit­abil­ity is highly depen­dent on where rein­tro­duc­tion takes place and more mod­el­ling work is required,” Oven­den said. “Our research informs one aspect of a com­plex decision-​making process that must involve a wide range of stake­hold­ers and, as a result, it does not rec­om­mend whether we should, or should not, rein­tro­duce Eurasian lynx to Scotland.”

We have estab­lished a solid foun­da­tion upon which more mod­el­ling can now be con­ducted, how­ever, fur­ther research is required to assess other impor­tant issues — such as socio-​economic fac­tors and pub­lic atti­tudes — to enable informed, com­pre­hen­sive decision-​making. It is our hope that this tool will not only pro­vide evi­dence to guide the cur­rent debate in Scot­land, but can be used more widely in dis­cus­sions around large car­ni­vore rein­tro­duc­tions globally.”

Jo Pike, Direc­tor of Pub­lic Affairs at the Scot­tish Wildlife Trust, said: “Return­ing the lynx to our land­scape as a top preda­tor could help restore the health of Scotland’s nat­ural ecosys­tems. Any future rein­tro­duc­tion would have to be care­fully planned, widely con­sulted on, and rig­or­ously assessed against national and inter­na­tional guide­lines. This research is a use­ful con­tri­bu­tion to the evi­dence base that needs to be devel­oped over the com­ing years.”

(Source: Uni­ver­sity of Stir­ling news release, 29.03.2019)

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