The science and practice of restoration ecology

We’ve just finished a great QAECO discussion on Restoration Ecology.

The focus of our discussion was Brooks & Lake’s (2007) paper on river restoration in southern Australia. They asked: can the available data on river restoration projects inform the science of restoration ecology? They found that existing data sources were limited due to the loss of historical information.  In addition, data from Victoria showed that only 14% of 2,247 projects completed between 1999 and 2001 involved monitoring and evaluation.

We thought the paper was a useful introduction to the issues (and money!) involved in ecosystem restoration. The authors provided a timely reminder that we still have a long way to go to progress restoration ecology. Importantly, they highlighted the need to specify clear and measurable objectives in restoration projects, and the need to evaluate the influence of management efforts through monitoring.

Broken Creek, Goulburn-Broken CMA, Victoria, Australia.

Broken Creek, Goulburn-Broken CMA, Victoria, Australia.

Here are some of the key ideas that came out of our discussion:

  • First and foremost, clear (and measurable) objectives are key to gauging the success of any restoration project, and help to define the necessary components of a monitoring strategy.  Learning to increase the efficacy of management can also be an objective.
  • An important step is for managers to document their conceptual models of how the ecosystem works. This can be used to formulate objectives and develop alternative management strategies. This process is also a good way to include the experience of those experts with important but undocumented knowledge, as well as any relevant scientific evidence.
  • Centralised, long-term and accessible databases are necessary to capture information about each restoration project that is undertaken (e.g. location, actions pursued, costs).
  • Monitoring programs that allow assessment of the efficacy of management against the original objectives must be a key component of any restoration project. Centralised databases will facilitate the evaluation of management activities.
  • Monitoring data should be used to update models of ecosystem function, thereby updating our knowledge and assisting future management decisions.
  • Communication between management agencies, scientists and other stakeholders can facilitate information sharing and learning on a larger scale.
  • All of the above requires greater certainty of funding. While funding of restoration in southern Australia is relatively high, short funding cycles limit the science and practice of restoration ecology.

By Chris, Libby, Geoff, Luke and team

Brooks & Lake (2007) River Restoration in Victoria, Australia: Change is in the Wind, and None too soon. Restoration Ecology, 15, 584-591.

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3 Responses to The science and practice of restoration ecology

  1. Pingback: Trait-based Reading Group | Freya's Research

  2. Shane Brooks says:

    I remain optimistic with the Australian governments MERI push (http://www.nrm.gov.au/funding/meri/meri-strategy.html) being a reasonable approach that has gained some traction in the freshwater arena. There is a sociology/psychology paper waiting for someone to explain why it is apparently so difficult to articulate clear honest objectives but this page is evidence the message is slowly getting out.

    A common excuse for why freshwater is a repeat offender is that for riparian restoration it takes 20-50+ years for trees to grow and many are content with “planting trees=good” so evaluation gets thrown in either the “not needed”, “too hard” or “I’ll be gone from this job before I need to care” baskets.

  3. Michael Bode says:

    That’s some really dismal news. You hear these sorts of outcomes all the time in conservation management, but why do you think freshwater restoration is such a repeat offender?

    Also, I know we don’t want to sound critical of people who dedicate their lives to freshwater restoration, but why wasn’t the first point in your list: “Reconsider the employment of anyone who was in charge of this spending.”?

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