Restoration ecology is an up and coming field with a huge number of applications. Sites ranging from minespoils, degraded rangelands, wastelands and floodplains have been recognized with immediate need for ecological restoration. But essentially, the blueprint for the restoration project remains the same. What is that?
Process of restoring a degraded site
- The first step to a restoration project is the identification of the project site. This doesn’t just mean finding the physical parameters of the site; it also requires us to assess the cause of degradation, the extent of degradation and whether it is economically and ecologically viable to restore the site. Often, the site is so heavily degraded that it will take extremely intensive care and long-term management to restore the site. At the moment, that is not a priority.
- Once the site has been identified, we delineate it’s ecological history. This is important for two reasons. First, it helps us understand the past communities that have survived in those environmental conditions. We can thus, keep this as our vague target. Second, it helps us understand the community dynamics of the region. Ecological succession is an important part of the entire restoration process. It needs to be understood so we can plan the project step-by-step.
- Our next job is to develop a theoretical reference ecosystem. This is done using our knowledge of ecological processes and the information obtained from the ecological history of the site. Using this reference system, we devise our targets and goals for the restoration project.
- Once we have a target in mind, we can list out the plan, schedule and budget for the entire restoration project. This includes preparation, installation and post-installation activities. Procedure and expected community formation should be delineated, along with how this community structure development will be obtained.
- Finally, we list out the long-term protection as well as monitoring protocols. Nature is still a mystery to us. There are so many environmental factors; we cannot perceive all of it (see Ecological Niche: Hypervolume model for more). Therefore, contingency plans should be prepared in advance, and scientists should be able to adapt to unexpected changes.
These steps help us develop a complete and holistic restoration guideline.