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Ecosystem restoration

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Ecosystem restoration

According to the Society for Ecological Restoration, ecosystem restoration is the return of a damaged ecological system to a stable, healthy, and sustainable state, often together with associated ecosystem services[1]

Rationale

There are many reasons to restore ecosystems. Some include:

  • Restoring natural capital such as drinkable water or wildlife populations.
  • Mitigating climate change (e.g. through carbon sequestration)
  • Helping threatened or endangered species
  • Aesthetic reasons (Harris et al. 2006, Macdonald et al. 2002)
  • Moral reasons: we have degraded, and in some cases destroyed, many ecosystems so it falls on us to ‘fix’ them.

There are considerable differences of opinion in how to set restoration goals and how to define their success. Some urge active restoration (e.g. eradicating invasive animals to allow the native ones to survive) and others who believe that protected areas should have the bare minimum of human interference. Ecosystem restoration has generated controversy, with skeptics who doubt that the benefits justify the economic investment or who point to failed restoration projects and question the feasibility of restoration altogether. It can be difficult to set restoration goals, in part because, as Anthony Bradshaw claims, “ecosystems are not static, but in a state of dynamic equilibrium…. [with restoration] we aim [for a] moving target.”

Even though an ecosystem may not be returned to its original state, the functions of the ecosystem (especially ones that provide services to us) may be more valuable than its current configuration (Bradshaw 1987). One reason to consider ecosystem restoration is to mitigate climate change through activities such as afforestation. Afforestation involves replanting forests, which remove carbon dioxide from the air. Carbon dioxide is a leading cause of global warming (Speth, 2005) and capturing it would help alleviate climate change. Another example of a common driver of restoration projects in the United States is the legal framework of the Clean Water Act, which often requires mitigation for damage inflicted on aquatic systems by development or other activities.

Problems with restoration

Some view ecosystem restoration as impractical, in part because it sometimes fails. Hilderbrand et al. [2] point out that many times uncertainty (about ecosystem functions, species relationships, and such) is not addressed, and that the time-scales set out for ‘complete’ restoration are unreasonably short. In other instances an ecosystem may be so degraded that abandonment (allowing an injured ecosystem to recover on its own) may be the wisest option (Holl, 2006). Local communities sometimes object to restorations that include the introduction of large predators or plants that require disturbance regimes such as regular fires (MacDonald et al. 2002). High economic costs can also be a perceived as a negative impact of the restoration process. Public opinion is very important in the feasibility of a restoration; if the public believes that the costs of restoration outweigh the benefits they will not support it (MacDonald et al. 2002). In these cases people might be ready to leave the ecosystem to recover on its own, which can sometimes occur relatively quickly (Holl, 2006).

Many failures have occurred in past restoration projects, many times because clear goals were not set out as the aim of the restoration. This may be because, as Peter Alpert says, “people may not [always] know how to manage natural systems effectively” [3]. Also many assumptions are made about myths of restoration such as the carbon copy, where a restoration plan, which worked in one area, is applied to another with the same results expected, but not realized (Hilderbrand et al. 2005).

See also

References

  • Bradshaw, A. D. 1997. What do we mean by restoration?. Restoration ecology and sustainable development., eds. Krystyna M., Urbanska, Nigel R., Webb, Edwards P. University Press, Cambridge.
  • Harris et al. 2006. Ecological restoration and global climate change. Restoration Ecology 14(2): 170-176.
  • Hilderbrand et al. 2005. The myths of restoration ecology. Ecology and Society 10(2): 19. Full Article
  • Holl, K. 2006. Professor of environmental studies at the university of California santa cruz. Personal Communication.
  • Liu, John D 2011. Finding Sustainability in Ecosystem Restoration. Kosmos Fall | Winter 2011. Full Article
  • MacDonald et al. 2002. The ecological context: a species population perspective. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Speth, J. G. 2004. Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment. Yale University Press, Connecticut.

External links

  • Restoration Ecology Journal
  • Ecological Restoration
  • Society for Ecological Restoration
  • EEMP - a non-profit 501 (c) 3 organization dedicated to communicate the lessons of restoration through media around the world.
  • Hope in a Changing Climate awarded documentary film on the potential of global ecosystem restoration
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