Ecosystem restoration: All you need to know in 5mins


Source - Aeon.co/essays, Illustration by Claire Scully


After the declaration by United Nations to celebrate this decade (2021-30) as Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, much attention had been drawn to the topic. However, there have been doubts and queries with the major crowd, regarding the what’s and how’s of ecosystem restoration process, so this will be one stop page clarifying major queries about Ecosystem restoration.


Why is ecosystem restoration the need of the hour?

Many ecosystems are damaged to the point of beyond unassisted recovery and need intervention. And even in protected environmental settings, the presence of invasive species (to know more about why invasive species are such a big threat, read more from https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Threats-to-Wildlife/Invasive-Species) is creating an ecological threat to the ecosystem. Adding to this the increased prevalence of disasters, occurrence of zoonotic disease, massive extinction of a large number of species are all creating pressure on the environment wherein it is reaching the point of non-reversibility. Thus, it is no longer enough to conserve the environment but there is a need to assist the ecosystem to recover to its pre-degradation trajectory.


What all activities does the ecosystem restoration comprises of?

There are many activities that could be done in order to ensure ecosystem restoration happens. Some of the major ones include: erosion control, reforestation, removal of non-native species and weeds, re-vegetation of disturbed areas, day lighting streams, re-introduction of native species and habitat and range improvement for targeted species.


What are the vital types of ecosystems that are included in ecosystem restoration?

There are 8 types of ecosystems that are mainly included in the process of ecosystem restoration as per UN guidelines. They are- forests, farmlands, grasslands, savannahs, rivers and lakes, oceans and coasts, towns and cities, peat lands, mountains.


Can an ecosystem be restored to its original state?

All ecosystem are dynamic systems and thus restoration to its original state is impossible. So, in order to curb this issue the process of ecosystem is implemented guided by the scientific principle of benchmarking with reference model from the same ecosystem. Thus, ecosystem restoration activities would be aimed at putting an ecosystem back to its original trajectory which existed before the disturbance or impairment took place. It should also be noted that benchmark aimed during restoration should be a stage wherein the ecosystem can stabilize from there on with minimum or no supervision.


How is ecosystem restoration different from afforestation and reforestation?

Although all three of these terms are used interchangeably, they are very different terms. Afforestation refers to the practice of creation of vegetation in an area where a forest was nonexistent, many a time this is done by utilizing mono-cultural or a few fast-growing species in plantations. Whereas, reforestation refers to growing vegetation back on an area which used to be a forest area but has lost all or most of its original vegetation due to various reasons. While reforestation deals with more species diversity than that of afforestation, neither of the practices are species specific or care about biodiversity or about the native indigenous species in that place. So ecosystem restoration looks into this gap and is about assisting, or accelerating, the revival of impaired ecological processes to a predefined state (before disruption or deviation)of that ecosystem, so that the ecosystem could function normally with maximum biodiversity.

What are the key principles of ecological restoration?

There are 3 key principles of ecological restoration that have to be followed while putting it into practice. They are:

1) Ecosystem integrity: The ecosystem that is being created shouldn’t be different from the original ecosystem type.

2) Species integrity: Ensuring that the indigenous or species that are native to the target group are being introduced in the restoration process.

3) Least possible intervention: The amount of human influence for restoration should be kept to the minimum, with passive restoration techniques being utilized as far as possible and using active restoration only where passive methods are feasible.(learn more about the active and passive restoration method at https://reefresilience.org/restoration/restoration-introduction/what-is-restoration/)


How is the success of ecological restoration activities measured?

Given that any ecosystem is a system in motion, there should be a “reference site” or a benchmark would be kept in mind and this combination of biotic and abiotic parameters while be seen as the aim before the start of the restoration activities. So, returning of the fauna and flora in the ecosystem to that benchmark level prior to which the ecosystem can function normally is a good indicator of the restoration success.


When is the ecosystem considered to be restored fully?

The complete recovery of an ecosystem to its previous state is said to be achieved when ecosystem could sustain itself and move forward structurally and functionally, while also being able to demonstrate resilience to normal ranges of environmental disturbances.


How do we ensure that a restored plot won’t get degraded again?

This requires actions at three levels. First, anthropogenic influences that can cause re-degradation have to be managed. Second, there has to be continuous monitoring of the site for at least 4-5 years post completion of restoration, and maintenance actions should be identified and implemented. Third, ensuring active involvement of local community members in restoration projects is also critical for sustainability of the restoration activities.

The author had tried to cover as much queries on ecosystem restoration as possible in this article. However, if there are other queries or other areas that need to be emphasized in coming articles feel free to drop it in the feedback section.


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