Research: restoration planning & assessment tools

Because ecological restorations typically require a significant commitment of resources achieve their aims, being able to assess the level of intervention needed is critical. This is especially true in an era of rapid global change, where ecosystems are affected by multiple stressors, including climate alterations. We are working on two kinds of assessment tools intended to guide restoration planning: 1) approaches for managing climate-sensitive native species and 2) synoptic resilience assessments.

Laura Phillips-Mao et al. (2016) used model-based scenario planning to assess management options for a grassland that supports a large population of a hydrologically sensitive rare species, small white lady slipper. We simulated population trends under scenarios combining changes in drought frequency, water table and invasive species cover. The gain in resilience achieved through the control of invasive species minimized population losses from drought disturbances. Applying this approach to other high priority populations should enable conservation decision-makers to develop sound, cost-effective management and monitoring protocols despite climate uncertainty.

Ecological resilience likely confers stability to ecosystems experiencing  multiple and novel stresses.  Where sufficient resilience remains, restoration relies less on human intervention than on natural processes. Because environmental conditions, natural disturbances, and species composition are highly variable from one ecoregion to another assessment of resilience needs be tailored to a locale. Few practical tools for gauging ecological resilience have been proposed (none for Midwestern US ecosystems).  We are launching research to develop these tools.

Recent Publication

Phillips-Mao, L.., S. Galatowitsch, S. Snyder, and R. Haight. 2016. Model-based scenario planning to develop climate change adaptation strategies for rare plant populations in grassland reserves. Biological Conservation 193: 103-114.