A new tool helps us build climate resilience into ecological restoration projects

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has partnered with the South Florida Water Management District on the Kissimmee River Restoration Project, aiming to restore a long section of the river to its natural state.

How can the Kissimmee team and others best restore degraded environments in the face of the unpredictable and tumultuous future that climate change promises? A big part of the answer is by building in resilience — the ability to resist change or to recover from disturbance in a way that preserves the essence of a system’s structure and function.

To that end, Britta Timpane-Padgham, a fisheries biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, and colleagues have created an interactive decision support table that restoration professionals can use to choose strategies and goals that best boost climate change resilience in the systems in which they’re working.

Published last month in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, the table is based on a review of hundreds of studies of restoration projects covering a number of ecosystem types, including rivers, coasts, forests and lakes.

Abstract of PLOS ONE paper on new tool:

Ecological restoration is widely practiced as a means of rehabilitating ecosystems and habitats that have been degraded or impaired through human use or other causes. Restoration practices now are confronted by climate change, which has the potential to influence long-term restoration outcomes.

Concepts and attributes from the resilience literature can help improve restoration and monitoring efforts under changing climate conditions. We systematically examined the published literature on ecological resilience to identify biological, chemical, and physical attributes that confer resilience to climate change. We identified 45 attributes explicitly related to climate change and classified them as individual, population, community, ecosystem, or process-level attributes.

Individual studies defined resilience as resistance to change or recovery from disturbance, and only a few studies explicitly included both concepts in their definition of resilience. We found that individual and population attributes generally are suited to species- or habitat-specific restoration actions and applicable at the population scale. Community attributes are better suited to habitat-specific restoration at the site scale, or system-wide restoration at the ecosystem scale.

Ecosystem and process attributes vary considerably in their type and applicability. We summarize these relationships in a decision support table and provide three example applications to illustrate how these classifications can be used to prioritize climate change resilience attributes for specific restoration actions.

We suggest that:

  1. Including resilience as an explicit planning objective could increase the success of restoration projects;
  2. Considering the ecological context and focal scale of a restoration action is essential in choosing appropriate resilience attributes; and
  3. Certain ecological attributes, such as diversity and connectivity, are more commonly considered to confer resilience because they apply to a wide variety of species and ecosystems.

We propose that identifying sources of ecological resilience is a critical step in restoring ecosystems in a changing climate.

Photo credit: South Florida Water Management District.

See full article by Andrew Urevig in Endia.

See tool on PLOS One website.

See Kissimmee River Restoration Project.

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