Interactions between wild ungulates and people: a global systematic review

    A scientific review describes the main benefits (ecosystem services) and conflicts associated with wild ungulates on a global scale and analyzes the main lines of research that have been developed in this field over the last 20 years.

    Wild ungulates are increasing their abundance and distribution in Europe and North America, where they are recolonizing many areas from which they were eradicated but where they were present several decades or even centuries ago. In contrast, wild ungulate populations are experiencing a significant decline in Africa and Asia, mainly because of direct persecution and changes in land use by human expansion. In such a situation, interactions between ungulates and people are increasing, and the trend is expected to continue.

    At this scenario of relationships between humans and wild ungulates, a multidisciplinary team of researchers affiliated to a dozen scientific entities from various countries, including the Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (IREC – CSIC, UCLM, JCCM), have analyzed the benefits (ecosystem services) and conflicts associated with wild ungulates on a global scale. To do this, they carried out an exhaustive review of 575 scientific works published between 2000 and 2019.

    Wild ungulate populations such as those of red deer (Cervus elaphus) and wild boar (Sus scrofa) have increased in abundance and distribution over the last decades.

    Since the beginning of the 21st century, the number of annual publications on wild ungulates and their interaction with people has been increasing, as has the number of benefits that have been taken into account in scientific publications (they appear in 50, 3% of the publications analyzed), despite the fact that conflicts continue to be mentioned the most (they appear in 93.7%).

    The analysis of these publications has made it possible to establish seven main lines of research on wild ungulates: (1) herbivory and natural vegetation; (2) silvicultural damage in Eurasia; (3) agricultural damage in Mediterranean agro-ecosystems; (4) agricultural damage in North America; (5) conflicts in urban areas of North America; (6) research in natural American Northwest areas; and (7) social research in Africa and Asia.

    These lines of research are developed mainly in Europe and North America, since five of the seven main lines of research focus on these areas of the world (70.6% of publications). However, only 7% of the ungulate species inhabit in Europe and North America, thus there is an evident geographic bias in the investigation of these species. The only line of research that is developed in developing countries (Africa and Asia) includes social aspects aimed at promoting coexistence with wild ungulates and their conservation. In addition, it is the line of research that most highlights the benefits associated with wild ungulates.

    Proportion of scientific publications that mention conflicts and/or benefits by families of wild ungulates.

    The conflicts most associated with wild ungulates are agricultural and silvicultural damage, as well as damage to natural vegetation and traffic collisions. Among the ecosystem services mentioned in scientific publications, hunting was clearly considered one of the greatest benefits that humans obtain from wild ungulates, followed by the food resource that will ungulates represent for many communities and their aesthetic value.

    Despite the negative aspects traditionally associated with wild ungulates, in recent years the benefits that they can also bring to socio-ecological systems have been evidenced, including ecosystem services such as tourism or habitat maintenance. Interactions between humans and wild ungulates will require, even more in the future, cooperation between the different social stakeholders involved (managers, conservationists, hunters, or farmers) to apply management measures that favour the coexistence between wildlife and people.

    In view of the results obtained, the authors of this research consider that science should consider all aspects of wild ungulates (positive and negative) in the functioning of ecosystems, in most cases anthropized, to favour this coexistence.

    The scientific publication of this research is available at: