Ecological Restoration, Meet Climate Change

As the climate shifts, do new trees need to become our go-to species? Photo Credit: Oliver Kellhammer

Ecological restoration is a worthy cause. It’s a process of healing the land, restoring water flow and building soil.

It’s also focused on the reintroduction of native species, generally because these species are well adapted to the climate and soil conditions of a particular area.

Native planting to restore native ecosystems sounds very wholesome, and it is.

It can restore processes and species that had been gone for a long time, but is restoration always the answer?

Climate Change Will Shift Restoration’s Assumptions

Restoration theoretically provides many benefits, but it also rests on a few assumptions. One is the assumption of resilience.

We’ve gotten used to the idea that we can do things to an ecosystem, leave it alone, and it will eventually bounce back.

This idea doesn’t always work, but it works often enough to allow us to rely on it. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, giant trees were cut down, and a new temperate rainforest grew in its place. It probably isn’t exactly the same, but it’s a close facsimile.

Another assumption is that of reliability. The people, plants, and animals that live in ecosystems around the world are used to a reliable climate. In the Pacific Northwest, the rains come in the middle of September. This allows the salmon to migrate upstream, and it allows the drought-parched forests to restore themselves to their mossy glory.

All of these assumptions fall down as the climate shifts. What happens to native trees as the winters get warmer? In central British Columbia, what happens is that a little beetle is able to survive the winter, and the pine forests fall as a result.

Click to Read Page Two: What Ecosystems Should We Restore? 

© Copyright 2012 Tricia Edgar, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Science

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  • Tel Asiado

    Thanks for the insightful piece, Tricia. For one interested in sustainable living and moments in science, your article is truly significant.
    Looking forward reading on latest ecological happenings from you, where we can relate with green living.

    Best regards,
    Tel

  • Dawn Smith

    Interesting (and logical) take on dealing with damaged ecosystems in the light of climate change. I spoke with Dr. Judith Weiss several years ago about restoring saltmarshes affected by invasive plant species (the natural marsh grasses of the Pacific have invaded eastern US and vice versa) and she found that wholesale clearing and replanting was actually not necessarily the best idea. and was trying to work out a better way to compensate for the damage. Something to be said for thinking the problem through before jumping in.
    Great article!

  • http://www.triciaedgar.com Tricia Edgar

    Yes, thinking things through in a comprehensive manner is not always something that we humans are skilled at! My thinking about restoration has changed a lot in the years since I did my graduate work in the topic. Now, I’m focused much more on adaptation than restoration, and I’m intrigued at how the discipline is addressing these challenges.