Restoration science relevant for action Conference

Yesterday I went along to the morning session of the second day of The Royal Society’s ‘Restoration Science relevant for action’ conference held at Chicheley Hall, just a stone’s throw away from our RRC offices at Cranfield. This conference looked at restoration of various environments, with talks from the US on forest restoration and landscape restoration. The methods and theories are similar to river restoration, as cooperation, organisation and monitoring is required for any restoration project.

The day was opened by Professor Jim Harris from Cranfield University. Jim quickly went over the sessions from the previous day before passing over to the first speaker. Don Falk, University of Arizona, presented on Restoration in changing times, stating how we are interested in resilience in the long term, under unknown conditions; and we are trying to restore into a world which does not yet exist. Current ecological and climatic stressors are testing the resilience of ecosystems, so we should state a theorem for restoration ecology. However this is difficult when reference conditions and attainable outcomes are shifting. Don pointed out the three components of resilience as, persistence, recovery and reorganisation. If the disturbance is persistent up to a critical threshold, the ecosystem then goes into a state of recovery. When this process also fails, such as lack of species recruitment, then the ecosystem needs to reorganise its functionality. Don’s presentation opened the morning, provoking lots of thoughts and ideas for how we can better understand reference condition and adaptability.

Next, Lael Parrott, University of British Columbia, Canada, gave a presentation on landscapes as complex human-environment systems. Lael used a flower metaphor to demonstrate how we need a balance between the services a landscape provides, such as biodiversity, air filtration, water provision, crop production, timber production and recreation. Ecological complexity will pull ecosystems to a state of maximum complexity. These ecosystems need to be sustainable and resilient. Hence, the human demand for resources should not exceed the supply. The difference between this ecosystem supply and human demand highlights the ecosystem resilience, and the room to manoeuvre without exhausting resources. This is the sought after preference at landscape scale. This sustainability and resilience can be achieved by remembering everything is interrelated, being able to adapt within communities, and working at multiple temporal and spatial scales. Human health is linked to sustainability of landscapes we live in, and understanding this need for sustainable ecosystems will help develop resilient, adaptive landscapes.

Daniel Laughlin, University of Wyoming spoke next on an alternative approach to setting restoration targets. This method looked at reference condition, and rather than looking at what species existed historically, we need to understand why these species were abundant at this time. We need a quantitative model that can translate desired goals and traits to species assemblages. In this way we use traits to set targets to achieve functional outcomes in restoration.

Before a quick coffee break, Robin Chazdon, University of Connecticut presented on tropical forest restoration from a practical perspective. It is important to consider the drivers of degradation, to inform the different approaches to tree restoration in the tropics. Also, key considerations include implementation costs, opportunity costs, areas most appropriate for natural regeneration, and priority areas for restoration efforts.

Participants were given a little bit of homework, and asked to note down a couple of topics or ideas they would be interested in collaborating on with other professionals. In this way, this was a brilliant opportunity to identify synergies and potential options for research collaboration.

After a quick break, we reconvened for the next couple of presentations. Similar to Don’s talk, Nancy Shakelford, University of Colorado Boulder, presented on reference condition for restoration. She used an example of her own work where meadow patches had been planted. Targets for restoration were influenced by the local community, for example neighbours who were interested in seeing wildflowers blossom and butterflies. This shows how targets need to be flexible, and having more than one vision for a project creates a less rigid structure and approach. Looking at a landscape scale provides more flexibility to set your targets, incorporating a variety of traits. It is important to plan for change, encourage community involvement, look at a landscape scale, and keep restoration open and flexible. This method can be applied to a range of restoration projects, including landscape restoration and river restoration.

The final talk of the morning was given by Jason Tylianakis, University of Canterbury, New Zealand, on restoring functioning communities, species diversity, functional diversity, species interactions, and human-environment relationships. A higher species richness is associated with higher functional richness. It is useful to identify those species that are ‘Specialists’, with traits that differ most from the rest of the community. In a disturbance, these are the first species to be lost within a community, indicating how species interactions are vulnerable to disruption. Jason also highlighted the importance of restoring people’s connection to nature, and environmental governance for all, including involving local, indigenous populations.

Following the talks, there was a panel discussion allowing participants to ask speakers more about their topics and thoughts on other ideas. The chair of the session Jim Harris kicked off the discussion by asking the presenters how to judge if restoration had progressed in the right direction, and what are the emergent properties to look for to determine if restoration is succeeding. Answers were varied and included that we don’t know what a restored site looks like so it can be difficult to assess. Nancy Shackelford mentioned that it can be useful to measure how long before something goes wrong, and looking at the negative to identify what not to do for restoration. Some presenters pointed out that restoration is an ongoing, non-linear process and we should be continually analysing projects to determine their progress. Emergent properties include species repopulation, interactions and functional richness, as well as heterogeneity and diversity in the system which wasn’t necessarily present before a disturbance. However, to analyse success of restoration, there are site specific considerations.

A final comment on this session was that the conference was about hope and how to balance resource utilisation. The pathway to recovery is not a reverse of the pathway to degradation. We need a long term understanding of how ecology is responding to restoration efforts. Adaptability is key to ensure we prevent further degradation and preserve intact habitats.

Stephen Murphy, University of Waterloo, Canada, then gave a summary of the afternoon session, before Emilie Aimé gave a presentation on the British Ecological Society Journals. There are half a dozen journals available, and BES are currently looking for contributions towards a ‘Restoration Special Feature’.

The whole conference was focused around restoration of different ecosystems, collaboration and research. It was brilliant to be involved in the conference, see what research has taken place and hear the potential opportunities for restoration.


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