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Nutrient redistribution by mammals as a key mechanism for ecosystem restoration

Project description

Planting seeds for new soil fertility framework

Soil degradation is widespread and diverse. Low soil fertility is the result of increased crop production and poor nutrient practices, and it is a major challenge in Europe and beyond. Researchers are studying the soil’s ability to sustain plant growth by providing essential plant nutrients and favourable chemical, physical, and biological characteristics. This is the sign of soil fertility. The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) project RE-NOURISH will study the implications of anthropogenic nutrient loading or animal dynamics during ecosystem restoration projects. It will develop a framework that quantifies the redistribution of multiple nutrients across landscapes by different groups of large mammals. It will test the model in nutrient-deficient and nutrient-polluted environments.


Declining soil fertility represents one of humanity’s major challenges in the 21st century. In the past, large vertebrate animals played a crucial role in transporting nutrients between ecosystems, supporting a more fertile planet. Today, however, species extinctions, diminished population abundances and constraints on animal movement have reduced animal-mediated nutrient transport by >90% compared to the late-Pleistocene. In contrast, anthropogenic use of certain nutrients (nitrogen [N], phosphorus [P] and potassium [K]) vastly exceeds planetary boundaries. Consequently, some areas of the world experience excessive nutrient pollution and others nutrient depletion.

Agricultural abandonment trajectories provide opportunities for large-scale ecosystem restoration, including rewilding of large vertebrates. However, where humans have altered nutrient geographies, redistribution by wild animals may have unintended consequences for nearby ecosystems, including to plant productivity, carrying capacity, carbon storage and endemic competitive advantages. Consequently, changes to either anthropogenic nutrient loading or to animal dynamics during ecosystem restoration projects can have far-reaching implications.

RE-NOURISH will develop an agent-based modelling framework that quantifies the redistribution of multiple nutrients across landscapes by different guilds of large mammals. Crucially, this model will include the direct and indirect influences of predators – an essential, but often overlooked aspect of nutrient redistribution in terrestrial landscapes. The RE-NOURISH framework will then be applied to two restoration case studies in (i) nutrient-deficient and (ii) nutrient-polluted environments. This transformative approach will directly help conservation practitioners achieve goals of ecological integrity and contribution to climate stability. Results will be disseminated via published papers, interactive workshops, conference presentations and popular articles.


Net EU contribution
€ 214 934,40
8000 Aarhus C

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Danmark Midtjylland Østjylland
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
No data

Partners (1)