Rewilding is being promoted as an ambitious alternative to current approaches to nature conservation. Interest is growing in popular and scientific literatures, and rewilding is the subject of significant comment and debate, outstripping scientific research and conservation practice. Projects and research are found the world over, with concentrations in Europe, North America, and on tropical islands. A common aim is to maintain, or increase, biodiversity, while reducing the impact of present and past human interventions through the restoration of species and ecological processes. The term rewilding has been applied to diverse concepts and practices. We review the historical emergence of the term and its various overlapping meanings, aims, and approaches, and illustrate this through a description of four flagship rewilding case studies. The science of rewilding has centered on three different historical baselines: the Pleistocene, the Holocene, and novel contemporary ecosystems. The choice of baseline has differing implications for conservation in a variety of contexts. Rewilding projects involve a range of practical components—such as passive management, reintroduction, and taxon substitution—some of which have attracted criticism. They also raise a series of political, social, and ethical concerns where they conflict with more established forms of environmental management. In conclusion, we summarize the different goals, approaches, tools, and contexts that account for the variations in rewilding and identify priorities for future research and practice.


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