Overabundance of wild ungulates: Socio-environmental keys for their management in Europe

    A scientific review synthesizes the ecological and social issues that must guide the management strategies of the conflicts derived from wild ungulates overabundance in Europe

    Over the past few years, wild ungulates have experienced significant population increases in Europe, leading to local overabundance scenarios. Although these species generate benefits for ecosystems and society, the problems that arise when their populations are out of control may outweigh the advantages. Damage to forestry and agriculture, the increased risk of road traffic accidents and the prevalence of infectious diseases in ecosystems are among the most worrying problems related to the overabundance of wild ungulates.

    To tackle the problems derived from the overabundance of wild ungulates and establish the best strategy to manage them, it is necessary to have tools with which to carry out comprehensive population monitoring, such as indicators of ecological change. Furthermore, in a globalized world, the opinions of society are increasingly important and, therefore, management strategies must incorporate criteria based on the results of sociological studies that determine the perception and acceptability of wildlife, the overabundance of certain species and their management.

    Currently, several management strategies have been implemented with more or less success, but the knowledge of their consequences over time is allowing the establishment of an adaptive management approach, which should be the basis of the managements of wild ungulate populations in general and, in particular, of overabundant populations.

    Wild ungulates, especially the red deer (Cervus elaphus) and the wild boar (Sus scrofa), have experienced significant population increases in Europe, leading to local overabundance scenarios and a number of socio-environmental conflicts that must be managed based on robust scientific criteria.

    The management of wild ungulate populations is a complex issue, and each particular case must be studied specifically, analyzing the cost-benefit balance of the measures that have to be taken and ensuring the budgetary items that allow the implementation and maintenance of the necessary monitoring programs. For this, the only effective way to tackle the important challenge of managing wild ungulate populations at a European scale starts from the necessary formation of multidisciplinary professional teams that have the participation of the social sectors involved.

    This scientific review has been prepared by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Aveiro (Portugal) and the Research Group in Health and Biotechnology (SaBio) of the Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (IREC – CSIC, UCLM, JCCM) in the context of the PhD thesis of its first author, Ana Valente, whose main objective is to contribute to the management of overabundance scenarios caused by wild ungulates.

    Although it focuses on all the species of European ungulates, the review pays special attention to the red deer (Cervus elaphus) and the wild boar (Sus scrofa) because of their wide distribution, the especially increasing trend of their densities and the complexity of their possible dense-dependent scenarios. It also pays special emphasis on the consequences of the overabundance of these species for agriculture and forestry, as well as for the prevalence of infectious diseases and the risk of the occurrence of road traffic accidents, always considering the social aspect of these conflicts.

    By synthesizing the bulk of the scientific literature available to date on this field, this review aims to become a bibliographic reference that contributes to making this a well-established field of research, helping to improve decision-making related to the management of populations of wild ungulates according to the needs of fauna and ecosystems and attending to social expectations and acceptability regarding socio-environmental conflicts derived from overabundance.

    The scientific publication of this research is available at: