Showing posts with label restoration. Show all posts
Showing posts with label restoration. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

#ESA100 Declining mysticism: predicting restoration outcomes.

Habitat restoration literature is full of cases where the outcomes of restoration activities are unpredictable, or where multiple sites diverge from one another despite identical initial restoration activities. This apparent unpredictability in restoration outcomes is often attributed to undetected variation in site conditions or history, and thus have a mystical quality where the true factors affecting restoration are just beyond our intellect. These types of idiosyncrasies have led some to question whether restoration ecology can be a predictable science.

Photo credit: S. Yasui

The oral session “Toward prediction in the restoration of biodiversity”, organized by Lars Brudvig, showed how restoration ecologists are changing our understanding of restoration, and shedding light on the mystical qualities of success. What is clear from the assembly of great researchers and fascinating talks in this session is that recent ecological theories and conceptual developments are making their way into restoration. Each of the 8 of 10 talks I saw (I had to miss the last two) added a novel take on how we predict and measure success, and the factors that influence it. From the incorporation of phylogenetic diversity to assess success (Becky Barak) to measuring dispersal and establishment limitation (Nash Turley), and from priority effects (Katie Stuble) to plant-soil feedbacks (Jonathan Bauer), it is clear that predicting success is a multifaceted problem. Further, from Jeffry Matthews talk on trajectories, even idiosyncratic restoration trajectories can be grouped into types of trajectories (e.g., increasing diversity vs plateauing) and then relevant factors can be determined.

What was most impressive about this session was the inclusion of coexistence theory and basic demography into understanding how species perform in restoration. Two talks in particular, one from Loralee Larios on coexistence theory and the other from Dan Laughlin on predicting fitness from traits by environment interactions, shed new light on predicting restoration. Both of these talks showed how species traits and local environmental conditions influence species’ demographic responses and the outcome of competition. These two talks revealed how basic ecological theory can be applied to restoration, but more importantly, and perhaps under-appreciated, these talks show how our basic assumptions about traits and interactions with other species and the environment require ground-truthing to be applicable to important applied problems.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Managing uncertain restoration outcomes*

Human activity has impacted ecosystems around the globe, and the value of intact, functioning habitats is increasingly appreciated. One of the most important management options to maintain or increase the amount of functioning habitat is to restore destroyed, disturbed and degraded habitats. However, there is much concern about how predictable restoration efforts are and the management strategies that will maximize success. The reality that systems may reach very different, alternative ecosystem states is a problem for managers when they desire well defined outcomes. Thus the ability to understand and predict how different factors affect restoration outcomes would be an important development.

In the current issue of the Journal of Applied Ecology, Grman and colleagues examine how different factors influence prairie restoration outcomes –specifically the diversity and composition of the restored habitat. They considered several management, historical and environmental factors. For management, they compiled information on the type of planting, the diversity and density of sown seeds and fire manipulation. For local environmental variables, they considered different soil characteristics, shade levels, and site area. The historical influences included land-use history, rainfall during seed sowing and site age. Finally, they also considered the landscape context; specifically what habitats surrounded the restoration site.

Grman and colleagues show that restoration outcomes are most influenced by management decisions and site history. The density, composition and diversity of sown seeds had the greatest impact on restoration outcomes. Species richness was highest in sites sown with high diversity. High sowing density resulted in high beta diversity among sites. Site history had significant effects on non-sown diversity, but did not influence the diversity of sown species. Site characteristics failed to predict local diversity, but they were important for among site beta-diversity.

If success is measured in terms of species diversity, then this work clearly shows that management decisions directly influence success. Surprisingly, site characteristics had a minor influence on success, despite conceptual and theoretical models that predict system sensitivity to abiotic influences. This work reinforces the need to develop the best management options for prairie restoration and that the influences of site history and local conditions can be overcome by sowing decisions and site management.

Grman E., Bassett T. & Brudvig L.A. (2013). Confronting contingency in restoration: management and site history determine outcomes of assembling prairies, but site characteristics and landscape context have little effect. Journal of Applied Ecology, 50, 1234-1243.