Sandom Lab


Our research is targeted at helping conservationists, policy-makers, business leaders and society to understand the structure and function of ecosystems and how these can be restored to create more biodiverse, ecosystem-service-rich and self-sustaining environments.

Conservation biology is a mission-driven discipline that is struggling to achieve its primary goal of halting the decline in global biodiversity. As part of the response to this challenge, two connected fields are emerging: Rewilding and the Natural Capital/Ecosystem Services agenda; both of which are central to our research. Rewilding is the mass restoration of ecosystems, driven by the reintroduction of functionally important ‘keystone’ species to re-establish lost or dysfunctional ecological processes. Natural capital is the world’s stocks of natural assets that include geology, soil, water, air and all living things. Ecosystem services are the goods and services natural capital provides society, typically separated into provisioning, regulating, cultural and supporting categories.

Rewilding Global Trophic Interactions in Mammals

We remain in the midst of a large mammal extinction that began in the middle of the Last Glacial, when modern humans expanded out of Africa. Our research has indicated this expansion triggered the extinction of 166 large mammals globally and the continental extirpation of a further 11 by 1,000 A.D. (Sandom et al. 2014). In the last 1,000 years additional large mammals such as the aurochs and western black rhinoceros have gone extinct, while the ranges and numbers of most of the remaining large mammals (e.g. lion, tiger, elephant) have declined. The loss of large vertebrates can cause a negative feedback loop where other interacting species also decline. For example, Sandom et al. (2013) illustrated that mammalian predator species richness is strongly linked to prey richness at a global scale, suggesting that predator diversity is dependent on prey diversity. Our current research is exploring how defaunation, the removal of animals for ecosystems, is threatening the conservation of wild felids my analysing predator-prey interactions. We are also exploring how these interactions functioned in the last Interglacial and how these interactions could be restored in the future.

Delivering food security, community resilience, and biodiversity through rewilding and community agriculture

If we give more land to wilder nature will this negatively impact food security and sustainability? Rewilding is gaining momentum as an exciting new initiative that seeks to restore nature to a more self-sustaining state. This is achieved by restoring ecological processes, such as grazing, by returning appropriate wildlife, e.g. large herbivores, to nature reserves. By doing so, the need for human management to preserve wildlife is reduced. Concurrently, demand for locally and sustainably produced food has increased significantly in recent years, as has participation in community agriculture initiatives such as city farms and community gardens. Rewilding projects and community agriculture are thus linked by their large herbivores and need for land. We will look for commonalities and compromise in the use of large herbivores in community agriculture and rewilding in the South-East of England, to determine how food security and nature can be supported in heavily populated regions.


Rewilding in the Uplands: NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellowship

Rewilding is gaining momentum as a new land management strategy. However, rewilding means different things to different people, and the risks and opportunities rewilding presents will vary depending on the approach taken. I have been engaging practitioners and policy-makers to better understand how rewilding could be applied in the uplands of England, what risks and opportunities it promotes, the barriers to rewilding, and how these barriers may be overcome.