Extinction of the Tasmanian emu and opportunities for rewilding

Elsevier, Global Ecology and Conservation, Volume 41, January 2023
Derham T., Johnson C., Martin B., Ryeland J., Ondei S., Fielding M. et al.

The Tasmanian emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae diemenensis) persisted alongside Aboriginal people for ∼40,000 years, for the last ∼14,000 years of which Tasmania was a large, continental island. This population of emus was extirpated soon after European colonization in the 19th century. Is hunting by people sufficient to explain the rapid demise of the emu or should we look to a synergy of pressures? Could wild emus be reintroduced to Tasmania? We investigated the distribution, hunting, and extinction of emus in Tasmania, before and after colonization, using population simulations, species distribution modelling, and land use analysis. We also evaluated the potential for rewilding with emus in present Tasmanian landscapes. The Tasmanian emu was a generalist with respect to vegetation and was widespread in the lowlands of eastern Tasmania. Prior to colonization, the maximum sustainable yield of adult emus was low, less than one per person per year. Following colonization, hunting rates quickly increased to a level that can account for rapid extinction. Large parts of Tasmania have both habitat and land uses suitable for an introduction of Australian mainland emus (D. n. novaehollandiae). This putative reintroduction of emus to Tasmania could reinstate several ecological and cultural roles but successful rewilding would require support from the wider community. We recommend field trial experiments, with methodologies co-designed by local community members.