The Future of Ecological Restoration

Ecosystems are being used unsustainably worldwide, and many are at risk of being lost forever. In many parts of the world, ecosystems are no longer providing essential services, such as food and water production, climate regulation, carbon storage, crop pollination, and wildlife habitat. But something can be done.

Ecological restoration is known as the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. However, this definition does not incorporate social aspects and public inquiry of ecosystems. Not only should restoration restore environments and ecosystems that have been destroyed by restoring certain targets, ecological restoration should also be improving social and life sciences. Currently ecological restoration includes recovering biodiversity, species composition, community structure, and ecosystem resilience, but it should also include social goals such as empowerment of local communities, and improving conservation strategies.

In order to do include both social and scientific aspects of ecological restoration a new definition is needed.

Ecological restoration is the process of assisting the recovery of a degraded, damaged, or destroyed ecosystem to reflect values regarded as inherent in the ecosystem and to provide goods and services that people value.”

David Martin, 2017

This definition shifts decision‐makers, scientists, and other restoration professionals to follow a structured goal setting process in which they can design their restoration policies and/or practices. This new structure forces restoration professionals to think based on values the ecosystem has, both biologically and socially (human). Using this approach, restoration professionals are encouraged to decide what they cared about first, the “why”, and then later going about doing it. By using this structured method, restoration professionals could allow their work to directly connect appeal with promise, and we may discover a more powerful goal‐setting structure for ecological restoration.

Hierarchical Structure of Ecological Restoration. Professionals should begin at the “why” (top) and work their way down to the “what” (bottom). The “why” is what they want to restore and the “what” is how to go about doing so.

Above is the hierarchal structure of how professionals should approach restoration goals. Breaking the goal‐setting process down into parts has advantages:
(1) it allows the process to be more transparent and documentable, which could control for unintended costs or restoration failures
(2) it allows for roles to be clearly defined, which could control for scientists inserting normative preferences into the process
(3) it allows for multiple potential goals and objectives, including associated ecosystem and social attributes.

The future of restoration is strong, especially if we include every community and many different factors in saving ecosystems. Although biology and science are the leading reason for restoration, every community can be involved with this new structure. This gives us promise for saving ecosystems, biodiversity and natural landscapes, as everyone will want to take part to save what they love and need.

References:
Martin, David M. “Ecological Restoration Should Be Redefined for the Twenty-First Century.” Restoration Ecology, vol. 25, no. 5, 2017, pp. 668–673., doi:10.1111/rec.12554.
“What Is Ecological Restoration.” Ecological Restoration Alliance of Botanical Gardens, 2019, http://www.erabg.org/what-is-ecological-restoration/.

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Farmland to Forest… or Maybe Not?

When farmland is abandoned it’s a new start for wildlife; it creates a new landscape for secondary succession to occur. But, how does the activities that took place on the land before abandonment effect the future growth and biodiversity of the land? The actions on the land when it was being managed have many effects on the land after abandonment.

Ecological succession is the process of change in the species structure of an ecological community over time, and second succession is succession resulting from a seed bank. In order for succession to take place, the soil in which the plants will grow must be healthy, however, farmland is not known to have healthy soil for natural wildlife due to the agricultural activities that take place.

Secondary Succession

Agricultural practices causes soil to be changed or negatively affected, causing secondary succession to develop more slowly. Here is a small list of the agricultural practices and their affects that cause harm to soil:
Tilling(plowing): linked to disruptions in the habitat space for soil organisms, such as earthworms, which helps seeds to germinate.
-Herbicides+pesticides: have various non-target effects on an ecosystem, such as soil destruction and harmful effects on animals and plants, which can persist over long periods of time.
-Fertilizers: change the chemical makeup and pH levels of soil, creating difficulty for many species to grow.
-Livestock: change the course of growth for many species, and this is due to their waste, grazing, and veterinarian interventions.

Effects of Agricultural Practices on Soil Health

Agricultural practices, such as the ones mentioned, create a barrier for natural wildlife to develop. Although it may take longer and organisms may have to overcome more barriers, abandoned farmland is a great place for secondary succession to happen. Abandoning farmland may be worrisome at first, but the benefits greatly outweigh the costs. Benefits include active reforestation, water regulation, soil recovery, nutrient cycling and increased biodiversity and wilderness, while the biggest downside to abandoning farmland is reduced agricultural security. It is time to put the environment and other species above our own needs, and time to stop practicing harmful activities. We have a chance to reinvent the landscape of abandoned farmlands, and instead of developing on these lands, we should let nature take its course and redevelop into the natural beauty it can be, even if it takes a couple of decades to be what it once was.

References:

  1. Tu M, Hurd C, Randall JM. 2001. Weed Control Methods Handbook: Tools & Techniques for Use in Natural Areas. The Nature Conservancy Wildland Invasive Species Team. <http://tncweeds.ucdavis.edu/handbook.html>.
  2. Ericson, Jenny. “Managing Invasive Plants.” Official Web Page of the U S Fish and Wildlife Service, Feb. 2009, www.fws.gov/invasives/stafftrainingmodule/methods/chemical/review.html.
  3. “HOW FARMING AFFECTS SOIL LIFE.” Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board, 2019, dairy.ahdb.org.uk/technical-information/grassland-management/healthy-grassland-soils/life-beneath-your-land/impact-of-farming-on-soil-quality/how-farming-affects-soil-life/.

Buckthorns Need to Get the Buck Out of Here!

Forest ground completely covered in buckthorn seedlings.

Different types of plants are grown all over the world, some of which naturally grow in the area and some of which are introduced. Introduced species that cause harm to native plants and to the ecosystem’s health are known as invasive species. Invasive plant species can include flowers, trees and shrubs. Canada is home to many invasive species, including the buckthorn. Although the Alder-leaved buckthorn is native to Canadian soils, their very similar family members, the European buckthorn (also called the common buckthorn) and Glossy buckthorn, are not. It is difficult to the untrained eye to classify which buckthorn is invasive and which is not.

European buckthorn is native to Eurasia and was introduced to North America in the 1880’s as an ornamental plant. Today, it is found all over Canada as they produce berries which disperse seeds through animal dispersal, where deer, birds and elk consume the berries and pass along the seeds. Seeds germinate quickly and prevent the natural growth of native trees and shrubs wherever they are dropped. Buckthorn is usually the first shrub to leaf out in the spring and the last to drop its leaves late in the fall, creating a dense canopy which shades out native plant growth. Buckthorn is also allelopathic, producing chemicals that inhibit the growth of other species. Besides directly inhibiting the growth of native species, buckthorns are also a wintering host plant for the soybean aphid, an insect that damages soybean crops.

How to identify the different Buckthorn species, made by Ontario’s Invasive Species Awareness Program.

Many believe invasive plants only effect the native plants found in forests and natural occurring areas, however buckthorns are able to hinder the growth of crops and gardening plants as well. In order to preserve our native crops, as well as our native vegetation within forests, learning how to identify native species could be a great aid in the fight against them. Above are some common identifiers for buckthorns. If you do come across invasive species, be sure to dispose of them in garbage’s and not in compost.

References:
“Common Buckthorn – Ontario’s Invading Species Awareness Program.” Ontario’s Invading Species Awareness Program, 2012, http://www.invadingspecies.com/common-buckthorn/.

Are Canada’s Favourite Forests at Risk?

A dying temperate deciduous forest, captured by Global Forest Atlas.

Toronto is home to the mixed wood ecozone, which is home to the smallest biome in all of Canada. The mixed wood ecozone consists of the temperate deciduous forest biome, where many diverse species of vegetation, and animals, grow. As well as home to Canada’s diversity, the temperate deciduous forests are the greatest carbon sinks we have. However, most of the original forest cover has been lost due to large populations that reside in these areas as well as agriculture, making this biome of the upmost importance to conservation. But, human use is not the most detrimental factor in the temperate deciduous biome – climate change is heavily effecting how the plants here are growing.

It is projected that there will be a 1-2° C increase from 1990 to 2050. This is expected to have regional affects in precipitation patterns, with drier summers overall, drier winters in some areas and wetter winters in others. This will reduce the length and amount of snow cover in the winter, creating less water availability in the summer. Climatic warming will also cause an increase in evaporation from the great lakes surrounding the biome, and possibly reduce the precipitation. These factors allows for droughts, forest fires and insect infestation, as there is no longer means to regulate them. Water availability and precipitation control droughts, which in turn controls forest fires, while snow cover kills off harmful insects from the previous seasons. Without these simple controls, the forests will be lost. In order to recoup from these harmful changes, the temperate deciduous forest will move poleward, and the forests we’ve grown to love will no longer be our home. The largest source that keeps Canada’s carbon-footprint under control will be lost.

But is there anything we can do to help maintain the health of this biome? Conservation efforts have already begun, such as implementing stricter timber and agricultural laws, creating provincial/national parks and planting new trees! However we need Canadian’s help to keep these forests alive. Reduce your carbon footprint and plant some trees to help fight the battle against climate change on the temperate deciduous biome.

pH and your plants

A graph showing the colour of hydrangea plants in relation to the soil pH. Obtained through Wikimedia.

Did you know the pH of your soil can affect the colour of the flower that your plants produce? Everyone is aware of the basic needs of plants, such as soil, water, light, and nutrients to grow, but how often is the pH of the soil taken into consideration? In order to cultivate the ideal flowers you are hoping to grow, many abiotic factors play a big role. The pH of your soil, (being either acidic, neutral or alkaline/basic) has a big effect on the type of flower you will grow in your garden. This is due to the pH balance of soils affecting the amount of aluminum that is readily available for plants. Acidic soils (pH of 6 or lower) allows more aluminum to be available to roots and therefore to the plants. The more aluminum available to the plants, the more blue the flowering colour will be. This is true for plants such as hydrangeas, morning glories and Hibiscus flowers.

Acidic soil frees aluminum, making this element available to the plant. Aluminum effects the colour of plants by affecting the grouping of anthocyanins, a water-soluble pigment found within the plant’s cell. Anthocyanins show a blue hue when bunched together and pink hue when farther apart. This is why aluminum rich soil produces the blue hue in blooms, it allows the anthocyanin molecules to clump together.

Thus, if you’re thinking of growing a flower garden this summer, be sure to use the proper soil pH for what you desire! But, be mindful of all the flower types in your garden, as some plants only grow in certain pH levels.

References:
1. “Hydrangeas: True Blue or Tickled Pink?” Espoma, Jourdancole https://Www.espoma.com/Wp-Content/Uploads/2015/04/Espoma-Logo-300×145.Png, http://www.espoma.com/learn-grow/gardening-projects/hydrangeas-true-blue-or-tickled-pink/.
2. “Anthocyanin.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Mar. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthocyanin.