A new study has just included jaguars (Panthera onca) as one of the 20 most important large mammals to restore.
The study, by Vynne et al. (2022), sought to prioritize the most important large-bodied mammals – those whose bodies can weigh 15 kg (33 lbs) or more – by ecoregion. As a rough summary, an ecoregion is a related group of ecosystems that occur in a designated area. The United States EPA has another good definition.
Vynne et al. (2022) focused on large mammals because they often play outsized roles in maintaining healthy ecosystems. For example, large predators like wolves help to keep prey species in check, which can benefit plant communities.
During my time in Colorado, I also learned that large grazers (like bison) help to prevent invasive plants from taking over an area, so that native plants and all the animals that depend on them can do better.
Vynne et al. (2022) looked for ecoregions where restoring 1-3 species of large mammals could have wide-ranging impacts. These areas are like “low-hanging fruits,” where the return of a few, critical species could have the most benefits.
The authors came up with a list of 20 large mammals to prioritize for restoration, and jaguars made the list.
The journal article doesn’t say where to restore jaguars, but one glaring area where the species is missing is its entire former range in the U.S. There are sections of the U.S. Southwest that could support jaguars, so returning the cats to those regions might make sense ecologically.
However, recovering large mammals – especially large predators – is as much a political and social endeavor as it is an ecological one. This means that jaguar restoration won’t be easy, although the push to reintroduce jaguars to the U.S. appears to be growing.
See below for the original article, as well as another story that covered it.
- Vynne et al. (2022). An ecoregion-based approach to restoring the world’s intact large mammal assemblages. Ecography.
- Bittel, J. (2022, June 23). “Saving Big Mammals Fights Extinction and Climate Change.” NRDC.