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Restoration of Ecosystems. Jen Morse Heather Bechtold 15 Jan 2013. West Hylebos Creek, WA. Hemlock forest in VT. Outline. Introduction to restoration Myths of restoration ecology Lessons learned from past efforts [Break] Assessing restoration and ecosystem services

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restoration of ecosystems

Restoration of Ecosystems

Jen Morse

Heather Bechtold

15 Jan 2013

West Hylebos Creek, WA

Hemlock forest in VT

  • Introduction to restoration
  • Myths of restoration ecology
  • Lessons learned from past efforts


  • Assessing restoration and ecosystem services
    • Discussion of Dodds et al. 2008
  • Intervention ecology
    • Discussion of Hobbs et al. 2011
http www ser org content ecological restoration primer asp

Ecological restoration is the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. It is an intentional activity that initiates or accelerates an ecological pathway—or trajectory through time—towards a reference state.

  • Intentional activity: method, tools, implementation
  • Recovery: ecosystem will be healthier than current degraded state
  • Damaged by human or natural causes
  • Toward a historic trajectory or reference state

Motivations for


  • Ecosystem services
  • Mitigating impacts
  • Habitat
  • Aesthetic and moral concerns
  • Legal requirements
  • Improve human livelihoods
  • Improve ecosystem productivity

Adapted from SER and IUCN (2004). Ecological Restoration: a means of conserving biodiversity and sustaining livelihoods

restoration of
Restoration of…
  • Rivers and streams
  • Drylands and deserts
  • Old agricultural fields
  • Prairies and savannas
  • Wetlands
  • Forests

Long leaf pine restoration, Nature Conservancy, Sand Hills, North Carolina

Urban stream restoration,

Durham, North Carolina

Island Press: Science and Practice of Ecological Restoration Series

Part II: Restoration of Damaged Ecosystems

spectrum of restoration
Spectrum of restoration
  • Spanning a very wide range of size and scope

Stream reach scale: ~100m – 1km

Iraq: marshland loss of 17,000 km2


Restoration: deciding to act

  • Determine that an ecosystem is damaged
  • Who is responsible for overseeing the restoration?
  • Motivating factors?
    • Laws, government agencies, NGOs

Goose Creek, Durham, NC, USA

restoration planning phase
Restoration: planning phase
  • Goals for the restoration
    • Habitat
    • Ecosystem functions
    • Appearance
  • Project design
    • Timeline, permits, contracts
    • Funding, budget

Planned restoration of Everglades , south Florida, USA

restoration implementation
Restoration: Implementation


  • Engineering interventions
  • Disturbance regime
  • Native species
  • Invasive species
restoration post implementation
Restoration: post-implementation
  • Monitoring
  • Reporting
  • Evaluation
myths of restoration ecology
Myths of restoration ecology

Hilderbrand et al. 2005. The myths of restoration ecology. Ecology and Society 10:19

Myth: simplified guiding principle

- limitations and assumptions?

carbon copy
Carbon copy
  • Goal: previous or reference state
  • Clementsian view: static endpoint
  • Disturbance is not good
  • Specific composition
  • Restoration = “accelerated succession”

Hilderbrand et. al. 2005. The myths of restoration ecology. Ecology and Society 10:19

field of dreams
Field of Dreams
  • “If you build it, they will come”
  • Physical template
  • Assembly process  repeatable trajectory
  • Wetland and stream restoration
    • “self-design”
  • Effectiveness is debated

Hilderbrand et. al. 2005. The myths of restoration ecology. Ecology and Society 10:19

fast forwarding
  • Accelerate ecosystem development
  • Initial species composition determines end point
    • Vegetation planting
  • Recreate links between biota and physical environment
  • Motivated by need to show rapid recovery (<5y)?
  • Little evidence that acceleration is successful
  • Same techniques across all projects
  • Use handbooks (engineering approach)
  • Rarely adaptive, often ignore uncertainty
  • How idiosyncratic are ecosystems?
command and control sisyphus complex
Command and Control (Sisyphus Complex)
  • Common in natural resources mgt.
    • Active intervention and control
  • Manage ecosystem state indefinitely
  • Frequent intervention decreases system resilience
  • Treating symptoms of the problem
  • Political-social mandates to “do something”
moving beyond the myths
Moving Beyond the Myths
  • Provide a starting point for restoration design
  • Identifying themes:
    • Planning for surprise, allow for uncertainty
    • Helps to set realistic goals
  • Incorporating science:
    • Experiments in adaptive


    • Testing multiple approaches
  • Final myth: Bionic World
myths of restoration ecology1
Myths of restoration ecology

Hilderbrand et al. 2005. The myths of restoration ecology. Ecology and Society 10:19

Myth: simplified guiding principle

- limitations and assumptions?

restoration efforts
Restoration Efforts
  • > $ 1 billion/ yr spent
  • Habitat Degradation
  • Invasion of Species
  • Climate Change

#of restoration projects recorded in NRRSS

Bernhardt et al 2005

habitat degradation
Habitat Degradation
  • Land-use change
    • Agriculture
    • Urban development
  • Restoration goals
    • Return an ecosystem to some previous state
    • Determined by political or agency groups
    • Tools needed to evaluate success of projects

How do you evaluate ecosystem health?


Observational evidence:

Sept 2008

June 2009

Craig Miller

measure physical or biotic structure
Measure physical or biotic structure
  • Increase habitat and create complexity
  • Biotic indicators
    • Abundance, diversity and presence/absence
    • Space and time


    • Fish, invertebrates
    • Algae
    • Riparian vegetation


Sensitive Tolerant

measure functional processes
Measure Functional Processes
  • Can be equated with ecosystem-level
    • Rates and pattern of processes
  • Less commonly used in ecological assessments
  • Integrate abiotic and biotic aspects
  • Examples of functional processes
    • Leaf decomposition
    • Nutrient retention
    • Metabolism
  • Compare function across sites
    • Within or across landscapes
    • Multiple streams, forests, grasslands etc.

NCEAS: National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis

To develop a common set of metrics by which to measure stream restoration success.

Examine the links between ecological theory and stream restoration

Develop a series of specific recommendations on how stream restoration is carried out and success is evaluated.

Disseminate this information broadly

  • (
determining restoration success
Determining Restoration Success
  • 93% of restoration projects are considered successful
    • Post-project appearance
    • Positive public opinion
    • over half had no measurable goals/ lack success criteria

Bernhardt et al. 2005, Palmer et al. 2010

determining restoration success1
Determining Restoration Success
  • Pre and post monitoring efforts are lacking from 90% of projects
  • Mean project cost with monitoring efforts are higher ($1.5 compared to $0.4 billion)
  • Low effort data collection and analyses for assessment is needed
  • Earn mitigation credits or have incentives

Bernhardt et al. 2005, Palmer et al. 2010

successful restoration
Successful Restoration
  • Target more than physical structure
    • Enhanced habitat heterogeneity does not relate to increased diversity
    • Restore functional processes
    • Use of softer self sustaining techniques (i.e. floodplain instead of armor)
  • Suite of stressors
    • Target most limiting factor
  • Assessment and long-term monitoring
    • Habitat , species
    • Function
  • Preservation and protection
    • Incentive programs (CRP-USDA)
    • Storm water management

Roni et al. 2008, Palmer et al. 2009

restoration ecology
Restoration Ecology?
  • Young discipline is maturing (into what?)
  • Context of rapidly changing environment
  • Jargon/terminology of ‘restoration’
    • (reclamation, rehabilitation, revegetation) creates unrealistic expectations
  • To some previous or original condition
  • Offsets: degradation in one area can be replaced by an EQUAL system in another
basic principles and tenets of restoration ecology are still being debated
Basic principles and tenets of restoration ecology are (still) being debated
  • How far should turn the clock back?
    • Past ecosystem state had characteristics more desirable than today
    • Historic impact is often ignored
  • Rate of change has escalated and in multiple ways
    • Synergistic interactions, novel conditions and species combinations, no analogue environments

When should humans intervene?

intervention ecology
Intervention Ecology

Need to use an approach that focuses on how humans intervene, maintain or repair ecosystems

  • Mash up between conservation AND restoration
  • Active vs. passive attempts to retain diversity or function
    • Using Reactive, Active, and Proactive Interventions
  • Intervene by managing for future change
  • Achieve whatever goal is SET: what is your intention
    • maintain a system in current desirable state or move it away from this state
  • Ex: fencing vegetation, removing weed spp, AND/OR return natural flow or fire regimes

How do you conserve a dynamic system?

deepwater horizon oil spill in gulf of mexico
Deepwater horizon oil spill in Gulf of Mexico
  • Reactive:
    • stop flow of oil, limit damage to shore ecosystems, repair these ecosystems
  • Active intervention:
    • re-vegetation, oil removal from impacted species, fishery enterprises, tourism
  • Proactive:
    • rebuilding barrier islands or coastal habitat; reduce dependence on oil; ecological planning for drilling areas; marine reserve program;
  • How risky are these actions? What is lost if failure is the result? (money?, species? time?)
mountaintop removal coal mining wv
Mountaintop removal coal mining, WV

Global/regional/local x ecosystem/governance

  • Reactive:
  • Active:
  • Proactive:
which are feasible desirable and likely to result in positive outcome for humanity and biodiversity
Which are feasible, desirable and likely to result in positive outcome for humanity and biodiversity?