Human-nature interactions in an urbanising world
Professor Kevin J Gaston, University of Exeter, UK
The two forest restoration worlds - social science meets restoration ecology
Dr Sarah Wilson, University of Victoria, Canada
Responding to unprecedented global forest clearing and degradation, governments and international agencies are promoting restoration across vast areas. To produce benefits, at a minimum restoration must be well designed and executed ecologically. But effective restoration also requires local people to engage and benefit from restoration, now and in the future. Despite the need for interdisciplinary research (theoretical and applied) on creating successful, lasting restoration works and policies, the field remains largely siloed between the natural and social sciences. So, what can restoration ecologists learn from the social sciences (and vice versa)? How does the literature on restoration ecology engage with social aspects critical to success (eg, governance, livelihoods, culture), and where are connections lacking? What compromises - spatial, temporal, structural - are required to integrate ecological and social elements in practice? Dr Wilson’s team: 1) conducted a literature synthesis illustrating the degree to which restoration ecology interacts with the social sciences in key fields, and 2) describes select case studies highlighting successful elements of integration. Preliminary results show that the restoration literature is expanding rapidly, but is diverging rather than converging; with greater separation between the social and natural sciences. Many ‘interdisciplinary’ studies integrate fields at the end, rather than co-designing studies. But examples from the field show that when projects are co-designed from the beginning, inevitable compromises are better integrated and long-term outcomes appear promising. Using a systems lens, Dr Wilson presents a framework that draws together these conclusions, illustrates key relationships, and shows what meaningful integration could look like. Findings can help motivate and guide the transdisciplinary work needed for successful forest landscape restoration around the world.
Restoring forests for whom? Aligning ecological and socio-economic outcomes for successful forest landscape restoration
Dr Jeanine Rhemtulla, University of British Columbia, Canada
In recent years, there has been a surge of interest worldwide in promoting rapid and widespread reforestation. The Bonn Challenge, for example, has set a goal of restoring 350 million hectares across the planet, roughly 3% of the global ice-free land area, by 2030. But what kind of forest will be restored—and for whom—is not at all clear. Achieving restoration success, especially in complex human-dominated landscapes and regions with high levels of poverty, will require an integrated restoration agenda that supports both ecological integrity and socio-economic development. It also requires a better understanding of trade-offs between conflicting goals, between ecosystem services, between stakeholder preferences, and understanding of how and where multiple goals can best be combined. Drawing on examples from her research in Peru, Malawi, and Ecuador, Dr Rhemtulla will discuss the importance of, challenges to, and opportunities for aligning ecological and socio-economic outcomes to improve restoration success.
Do we need a minimum viable ecosystem size concept in restoration ecology?
Professor Han Olff, University of Groningen, The Netherlands
With the global rise of agriculture, livestock husbandry, and forestry, humans have simplified ecosystems by promoting the abundance of focal species groups (seed plants, large herbivores, trees) with a particular benefit to humans. Intensification of land use can be seen as increasing success in excluding negative ecological interactions (competition, predation, herbivory, parasitism) and promoting positive interactions (mutualism, decomposition) for the focal species of production, often possible at an increasingly smaller area. While in population ecology the concept of minimum viable population size has been extensively investigated and is frequently used in conservation and restoration efforts, a related notion of a minimum viable ecosystem size is mostly lacking. Professor Olff will discuss the need for, and steps towards development of this concept, presenting its key elements through a novel food web approach. In this approach, species interactions are ranked not only along a trophic axis but also along an axis of resource quality at the base of the food web. Different species groups interacting in such a network are differentially sensitive to reductions in ecosystem size. Large, mobile species with large home ranges will be relatively sensitive while small and sedentary species (plants, soil fauna) will be relatively insensitive. For small but mobile species (birds, flying insects, often making up most of the biodiversity) the outcome is unclear, as these species often interact strongly with both sedentary and large mobile groups. Formulating a minimum viable ecosystem size for restoration efforts requires therefore a better understanding of the interplay of species along multiple axes of organisation in ecological interaction networks.
Policy and implementation learning identified through natural capital planning activities in the Oxford Cambridge Arc
Professor Paul Leinster CBE, Cranfield University, UK
National government and local authorities have recognised the Oxford Cambridge Arc as an area of significant economic strength with the potential to become a world-leading economic area. This will require significantly more homes and substantial additional infrastructure in the Arc.The Arc is valued for its wildlife, natural places and local greenspaces. They play critical roles in providing the needs of people and businesses for clean water and air, flood regulation, healthier lifestyles and climate change adaptation. They also create attractive, resilient and productive places for people to live and work in. There is a need for a bold, strategic Arc-wide plan for the environment, natural capital and biodiversity which has the same status as the industrial, housing and transport strategies. This must ensure the protection and enhancement of the existing environment. The environment, natural capital and biodiversity should also be fully integrated within the other strategies as well as the health and wellbeing plans. To be effective this will require clear governance and accountability arrangements related to the environment in all these workstreams. A local natural capital plan is being progressed by government agencies with widespread local stakeholder engagement. It builds on a natural capital investment plan scoping project carried out by the local nature partnerships. This work identified the need for agreed methodologies for baseline assessments and for concepts such as net environmental gain. The design, implementation and policy implications of the work programmes outlined above will be discussed.
Resilience ecology is restoration for a changing world
Professor Don Falk, University of Arizona, USA
Classical restoration theory rests on assumptions of environmental stationarity, but current rapid changes in Earth systems are compelling an evolution of the original restoration model. Species have evolved a variety of mechanisms for adapting to climatic variation over a range of time scales; however, the current pace of change may exceed the adaptive capability of many species in their current geographic distributions. Higher-order ecological disturbances, such as wildfires and insect outbreaks, compound the effects of climate stress, and often operating at time scales many times faster than even the accelerated climate velocity of the current century. Such disturbances are transient processes that can trigger significant and irreversible environmental, demographic and ecosystem change. Interactions of climate change and elevated levels of disturbance constitute the greatest challenge for restoration of terrestrial ecosystems now and many decades into the future. A consensus is emerging within the restoration field that a focus on ecological resilience, rather than strict interpretation of historical reference conditions, may be necessary to maintain and enhance the adaptive capacity of many species, communities, and ecosystems. Nonetheless, departures from historical references should be undertaken cautiously and incrementally, respecting the importance of ecological legacies, refugia, species interactions, and unexpressed genetic variation. We can decompose ecological responses to climate and disturbance by applying a scaled probability model across a spectrum from persistence and recovery to system reorganisation. These processes comprise the elements of a theorem of ecological resilience relevant to the formidable challenges in a rapidly changing world.
Dryland restoration: Transdisciplinary research and the SDGs
Professor Lindsay Stringer, University of Leeds, UK
Drylands cover c.40% of the global land surface and face numerous urgent challenges. Biodiversity loss, climate change and land degradation combine with high population growth, limited employment opportunities, high levels of poverty and poor governance, resulting in food insecurity, lack of livelihood options and sometimes even conflict and unrest. Efforts to address these challenges are supported by the post-2015 development agenda. Sustainable Development Goal 15 ‘Life on Land’ commits to “Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss”. This presentation considers what SDG15 means in practice. It examines ‘what works’ in tackling problems of land degradation and desertification, with particular focus on transdisciplinary approaches to prevent and reduce degradation, as well as in restoring degraded land. It establishes the importance of systems approaches in unpacking interactions in livelihood portfolios and value chains; in traversing temporal and spatial scales, stakeholders, sectors and ways of knowing; and in sharing knowledge, learning and experience to empower. It argues that restoration science needs to move beyond integrating science with indigenous, traditional and local knowledge, to build partnerships and co-produce restoration solutions. To achieve this, scientists need to meaningfully engage with transdisciplinarity.
Group discussion: shifting human baselines