Wild pigs can support higher diversity ecosystems and are not just nuisances and pests.
Wild boars are seen as a scourge in the rainforests of countries like Malaysia and Indonesia where they are known to destroy saplings and seedlings. They also raid the crops of local farmers, which has hardly endeared them to locals
Yet native wild boars (Sus scrofa) are also crucial in maintaining biodiversity in their native habitats, a team of researchers at the University of Queensland has found.
“Their negative impacts on natural and cultivated ecosystems have been well documented — ranging from soil disturbances to attacking newborn livestock,” explains Matthew Luskin, a conservation biologist.
However, the wild boars, though much-maligned by locals, can also perform vital ecological functions. “We’ve shown that wild pigs can support higher diversity ecosystems and are not just nuisances and pests, thanks to a beneficial effect of their nesting practices,” Luskin attests.
“Prior to giving birth, pigs build birthing nests made up of hundreds of tree seedlings, usually on flat, dry sites in the forest,” he elucidates. “As they build their nests, the pigs kill many of the dominant seedlings and inadvertently reduce the abundance of locally dominant tree species, but usually not rarer local species, supporting tree diversity.”
Luskin and his colleagues tagged nearly 35,000 tree seedlings over a 25 hectare area in a Malaysian rainforest to track how tree diversity changed in areas where pigs nested.
The animals were found to nest in flat dry habitats and within clumps of saplings. Their nesting habits caused significant changes to local seedlings, which led the scientists to conclude that “pig nesting is an important feature shaping tree composition throughout the region.”
“You could consider pigs ‘accidental forest gardeners’ that prune common seedlings and inadvertently maintain diversity,” Luskin observes.
“In many regions, there’s a focus on managing overabundant pig populations to limit their negative environmental impacts. But our results suggest there may be some positives to maintaining pigs in the ecosystem,” he adds.
Whether this research will be convincing enough for locals who crops are ravaged by wild boars remains to be seen, but it has helped wild boars get some credit at last.