This species is one of a number which have been included in various “Pleistocene rewilding” plans. Pleistocene rewilding is the proposed practice of restoring ecosystems to their state in the Pleistocene, roughly 10,000 years ago. This contrasts the standard conservation benchmark, particularly in North America, of restoring ecosystems to their pre-Columbian or pre-industrial state. In both Eurasia and North America, the Pleistocene was characterized by much greater diversity and numbers of large herbivores and predators, including proboscidians, equids, camelids, and felidae (Donlan et al 2006; Zimov 2005). The process of restoration would involve the reintroduction of extant species in their historic range, as well as the introduction of ‘proxy organisms’ to replace the ecological functionality of extinct organisms (Donlan et al 2006).
There are three central theoretical goals to Pleistocene rewilding. In Siberia, a team led by Sergey Zimov is investigating the role of large herbivores as ecosystem engineers. It is thought that herbivory pressure could play a central role in maintaining a grass-dominated plant community, as opposed to either tree- or moss-dominated. Grasslands are known to be more stable carbon sinks than either mossy or forested tundra, due to the rapidity of their biogeochemical cycling (Zimov 2005). In principle, then, reintroducing Pleistocene fauna could have positive climate change mitigation effects. Proposals in North America have focused instead on the preservation of ecological dynamics. Proponents of Pleistocene rewilding argue that due to the strong ecological interactions of megafauna, it is likely that their extinction at the end of the Pleistocene would have caused cascading ecological disruptions lasting until the present time (Donlan et al 2006). Additionally, introduction programs could provide a new lease on life for extant, endangered megafauna species, such as cheetahs and Asian elephants (Rubenstein 2006).
Pleistocene rewilding, while headline-grabbing, is by no means the standard of modern conservation biology. There are a number of objections to the proposals of Pleistocene rewilders, summarized by Rubenstein et al (2006). The introduction of species which have been locally extinct for thousands of years, and more particularly the introduction of modern relatives of extinct species, carries many risks: the potential for invasive species, catastrophic disruption of existing ecosystems, inadvertent introduction of disease organisms, and unpredictable behavior of introduced species. Additionally, while paleoecology is a growing field, there is still a fair amount of uncertainty about the actual ecosystem functions of the Pleistocene.
Species which Zimov and his colleagues in Siberia are experimenting with bison, musk oxen, Przewalski’s horse, and Siberian tigers (Zimov 2005). Small-scale introductions have already begun in Yakutia. Donlan et al propose introducing Przewalski’s horse, Bolson tortoises, Bactrian camels, cheetahs, lions, and elephants into the Western United States (Donlan et al 2005). While some individuals of these species are present on privately owned land, there are no free-living populations in North America at this time.
- Donlan, CJ. 2005. Re-Wilding North America. Nature 436:913-914.
- Donlan CJ, Berger J, Bock CE, Bock JH, Burney DA, Estes JA, Foreman D, Martin PS, Roemer GW, Smith FA, Soule ME, Greene HW. 2005. Pleistocene Rewilding: An Optimistic Agenda for Twenty-First Century Conservation. The American Naturalist 168:660-681.
- Rubenstein DR, Rubenstein DI, Sherman PW, Gavin TA. 2006. Pleistocene Park: Does Rewilding North America Represent Sound Conservation for the 21st Century? Biological Conservation 132:232-238.
- Zimov, SA. 2005. Pleistocene Park: Return of the Mammoth’s Ecosystem. Science 308:796-798.
The wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) or mountain bison (often called the wood buffalo or mountain buffalo in North American English), is a distinct northern subspecies or ecotype of the American bison. Its original range included much of the boreal forest regions of Alaska, Yukon, western Northwest Territories, northeastern British Columbia, northern Alberta, and northwestern Saskatchewan.[clarification needed] It is currently listed as threatened on Schedule I of the Species At Risk Act.[clarification needed]
The wood bison differs from the plains bison (Bison bison bison), the other surviving North American subspecies/ecotype, in a number of important ways. Most notably, the wood bison is heavier, with large males weighing over 900 kilograms (2,000 lb), making it the largest terrestrial animal in North America. The highest point of the wood bison is well ahead of its front legs, while the plains bison's highest point is directly above the front legs. Wood bison also have larger horn cores, a darker and woollier pelage, and less hair on their forelegs and beard.
As with other bison, the wood bison's population was devastated by hunting and other factors. By the early 1900s, they were regarded as extremely rare or perhaps nearly extinct. However, a herd of about 200 was discovered in Alberta, Canada in 1957. This herd has since recovered to a total population of approximately 2,500, largely as a result of conservation efforts by Canadian government agencies. In 1988, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) changed the subspecies' conservation status from "endangered" to "threatened".
On June 17, 2008, 53 Canadian wood bison were transferred from Elk Island National Park in Alberta, Canada, to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center near Anchorage, Alaska. There they were to be held in quarantine for two years, and then re-introduced to their native habitat in the Minto Flats area near Fairbanks, but this plan is still on hold as of 2011.
Publicly owned free-ranging herds in Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories comprise 90% of existing wood bison, although six smaller public and private captive breeding herds with conservation objectives comprise approximately 10% of the total (n ≈ 900). These captive herds and two large isolated free-ranging herds in the Yukon and Northwest Territories all derive from disease-free and morphologically representative founding stock from northern Wood Buffalo National Park in northeastern Alberta and southern Northwest Territories. These captive herds are particularly important for conservation and recovery purposes, because the larger free-ranging herds in and around Wood Buffalo National Park were infected with bovine brucellosis and tuberculosis after 7,000 plains bison (Bison bison bison) were trans-shipped by barge from Buffalo National Park near Wainwright, Alberta in the 1920s.
Diseases including brucellosis and tuberculosis remain endemic in the free-ranging herds in and around Wood Buffalo National Park. The diseases represent a serious management issue for governments, various local Aboriginal groups, and the cattle industry rapidly encroaching on the park's boundaries. Disease management strategies and initiatives began in the 1950s, and have yet to result in a reduction of the incidence of either disease despite considerable expenditure and increased public involvement.
The term "buffalo" is sometimes considered to be a misnomer for this animal, as it is only distantly related to either of the two "true buffalo", the Asian water buffalo and the African buffalo. However, "bison" is a Greek word meaning ox-like animal, while "buffalo" originated with the French fur trappers who called these massive beasts bœufs, meaning ox or bullock—so both names, "bison" and "buffalo", have a similar meaning. Though the name "Bison" might be considered to be more scientifically correct, as a result of standard usage the name "Buffalo" is also considered correct and is listed in many dictionaries as an acceptable name for American Buffalo or bison. In reference to this animal, the term "buffalo", dates to 1635 in North American usage when the term was first recorded for the American mammal. It thus has a much longer history than the term "bison", which was first recorded in 1774. The American bison is very closely related to the wisent or European bison.
- American bison (Bison bison)
- European bison
- Bison hunting
- Yellowstone Park bison herd
- American Bison Society
- Henry Mountains Bison Herd
- Antelope Island Bison Herd
- Gates, C. & Aune, K. 2008. Bison bison. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 06 September 2012.
- Geist, V. (1991). "Phantom Subspecies: The Wood Bison, Bison bison "athabascae" Rhoads 1897, Is Not a Valid Taxon, but an Ecotype.". Arctic 44 (4): 283–300.
- Kay, Charles E.; White, Clifford A. (2001). "Reintroduction of Bison into the Rocky Mountain Parks of Canada: Historical and Archaeological Evidence". Crossing Boundaries in Park Management: Proceedings of the 11th Conference on Research and Resource Management in Parks and on Public Lands. Hancock, Michigan: George Wright Soc. pp. 143–151. http://www.georgewright.org/24kay.pdf. Retrieved December 2, 2009.
- Bork, A. M. coauthors=Strobeck, C. M.; Yeh, F. C.; Hudson, R. J.; Salmon, R. K. (1991). "Genetic Relationship of Wood and Plains Bison Based on Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphisms". Canadian Journal of Zoology 69 (1): 43–48. doi:10.1139/z91-007. http://article.pubs.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/RPAS/RPViewDoc?_handler_=HandleInitialGet&calyLang=eng&journal=cjz&volume=69&articleFile=z91-007.pdf.
- Halbert, Natalie D.; Raudsepp, Terje; Chowdhary, Bhanu P.; Derr, James N. (2004). "Conservation Genetic Analysis of the Texas State Bison Herd". Journal of Mammalogy 85 (5): 924–931. doi:10.1644/BER-029. http://www.bioone.org/doi/full/10.1644/BER-029.
- Wilson, G. A.; Strobeck, C. (1999). "Genetic Variation within and Relatedness among Wood and Plains Bison Populations". Genome 42 (3): 483–496. doi:10.1139/gen-42-3-483. PMID 10382295. http://article.pubs.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/ppv/RPViewDoc?issn=0831-2796&volume=42&issue=3&startPage=483.
- Boyd, Delaney P. (2003). Conservation of North American Bison: Status and Recommendations (MS thesis). University of Calgary. http://www.notitia.com/bison/Members/PDF%20Files/Library/Thesis%20Document%20-%20Conservation%20Status%20of%20Bison%20-%20BOYD.pdf. Retrieved December 2, 2009.
- Wood Bison Restoration in Alaska, Alaska Department of Fish & Game, Division of Wildlife Conservation
- Species At Risk Registry: Wood Bison
- Canada Helps Restore Wood Bison to Alaska in International Conservation Effort to Recover a Threatened Species, Yahoo! Finance, July 9, 2008
- Release of bison into Alaska wilderness put on hold again, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Aug 14, 2011
- Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources - Northwest Territories, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources - Northwest Territories
- Gates, Zimov, Stephenson, Chapin. "Wood Bison Recovery: Restoring Grazing Systems in Canada, Alaska and Eastern Siberia". http://www.bisoncentre.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=124&Itemid=135. Retrieved February 9, 2010.
- CBC News, "Alberta bison bound for Russia", 14 February 2011
- Edmonton Journal, "Elk Island wood bison big hit in Russia", Hanneke Brooymans, 5 August 2010
- Edmonton Journal, "Bison troubles", CanWest MediaWorks Publications, 5 October 2006
- Joly, D. O.; Messier, F. (2004-06-16). "Factors affecting apparent prevalence of tuberculosis and brucellosis nubs are amazing". Journal of Animal Ecology 7 (4): 623–631. doi:10.1111/j.0021-8790.2004.00836.x. http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/118754826/HTMLSTART. Retrieved 2009-04-30.
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
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