Wild pigs are often referred to as ecosystem destroyers, but research from the University of Queensland (Australia) has proven their benefits – they cultivate biodiversity-rich rainforests in their natural habitats. This allows ecosystems to recover faster.
Matthew Luskin, PhD, studied the effects of native pigs in the tropical forests of Malaysia and found that their nests could be critical in maintaining diverse and balanced tree communities.
Wild pigs can support ecosystems by making them more diverse, rather than just being a nuisance and pest. Their nesting methods have a beneficial effect on forests. The fact is that before giving birth, pigs build nests for childbirth from hundreds of tree seedlings, usually in flat and dry areas of the forest.
In building their nests, pigs destroy many of the dominant seedlings and inadvertently reduce the number of native tree species, but usually not more rare native species, thereby maintaining biodiversity.
Wild pigs (Sus scrofa) descended from the same domestic pig species, and both were generally considered pests by farmers, land users and conservationists. Their negative impacts on natural and cultivated ecosystems are well documented – from soil disturbance to attacks on newborn livestock. This is the first study to link animals to this maintenance mechanism for super-diverse rainforests. Given that they are often exposed to external threats, nesting pigs promotes recovery.
Pigs can be considered “occasional foresters” who cut off common seedlings and inadvertently maintain diversity. In many regions, the focus is on managing surplus pigs in order to limit their negative impact on the environment. But our results show that there can be some positives in the conservation of pigs in the ecosystem.Matthew Luskin, study author
Researchers have tagged more than 30,000 seedlings in tropical forests in Malaysia and studied how tree diversity has changed in areas where pigs nest. To do this, they extracted more than 1,800 tree tags from more than 200 pig nests.
The study author emphasized that since the field studies were conducted in Malaysia, where pigs are native species, exposure to invasive pigs in Australia may not have similar effects. Scientists are now developing new research to study the same processes in Queensland.
Note that pigs have become the most abundant large animal on Earth, so documenting any new environmental impacts has enormous implications around the world.