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Shifting Restoration Policy to Address Landscape Change, Novel Ecosystems, and Monitoring

Joy B Zedler, University of Wisconsin-Madison
James M. Doherty, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Nicholas A. Miller, The Nature Conservancy

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-05197-170436

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Abstract

Policy to guide ecological restoration needs to aim toward minimizing the causes of ecosystem degradation; where causes cannot be eliminated or minimized, policy needs to shift toward accommodating irreversible landscape alterations brought about by climate change, nitrogen deposition, altered hydrology, degraded soil, and declining biodiversity. The degree to which lost diversity and ecosystem services can be recovered depends on the extent and nature of landscape change. For wetlands that occur at the base of watersheds that have been developed for agriculture or urban centers, the inflows of excess water, sediment, and nutrients can be permanent and can severely challenge efforts to restore historical services, including biodiversity support. In such cases, the historical state of downstream wetlands will not be completely restorable. Wetland restoration policy should promote watershed planning, wherein wetland and upland restoration is prioritized to achieve multiple, specific ecosystem services. For downstream wetlands, it is realistic to aim to enhance nitrogen removal and to establish native plants that are matrix dominants, namely, those that facilitate rather than displace other natives. More ambitious objectives such as maximizing diversity would be suitable for less-altered, upstream wetlands. Policy should also call for adaptive restoration and long-term assessments. For large sites and multiple sites of a given wetland type within a region, experimental tests can determine a wetland’s ability to support high levels of ecosystem services. Once projects are underway, long-term monitoring of structural and functional indicators can characterize progress toward each objective. Managers can then learn which targets are unachievable based on data, not just opinion. Where an experimental treatment shows limited progress, practitioners would shift to more promising treatments and targets, thereby adapting restoration efforts to changing landscapes. Rather than ensuring duplication of historical conditions, an adaptive restoration framework allows practitioners to aim high while using field tests to identify unachievable targets and adapt ecological restoration to landscape change.

Key words

adaptive restoration; conservation of biodiversity; ecological restoration; ecosystem services; landscape alteration; watershed plan; wetland
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087