The goal of restoration ecology is to provide the scientific understanding for repairing, sometimes creating, and ultimately conserving valuable ecosystems.
Ecosystems include single species, multiple species coexisting within a community and the myriad of interactions between species and their physical environments. Value can be biologically defined as having natural structure, diversity and function, but it also can refer to the economic value humans derive from the services an ecosystem provides.
Experience gained by botanic gardens, arboreta and seed banks has shown that successful restoration of an ecosystem must be based upon a thorough understanding of native vegetation, which provides the structural and functional framework for all other ecosystem components. That understanding in turn is based on knowledge and collections compiled, maintained and used by botanic gardens. Individual botanical gardens play a critical scientific role in restoration by conducting research on collections, by inventing horticultural techniques, by conducting field studies of natural systems and by developing great reservoirs of biological knowledge. Botanic gardens are also concerned with preserving the knowledge and traditions of people who depend on ecosystem services for their well-being and livelihoods.
The Programme in Restoration Ecology at RBG Kew makes substantive contributions to restoration ecology in the following ways:
- Emphasizing science-based approaches to conservation and restoration problems
- Using well-documented living plant collections, seed collections, fungi collections and the herbarium to understand native vegetation and soil and to provide restoration materials
- Generating additional knowledge and know-how regarding the genetic, physiological, horticultural and ecological characteristics of plants and fungi
- Acting as stewards for rare and threatened species
- Leveraging our expertise for teaching, training and outreach
- Collaborating through a global network of gardens that has operated effectively for decades
There are currently three major “pillars” for the Programme in Restoration Ecology at RBG Kew:
1) Development of a Large, Collaborative Restoration Project: The conceptual framework for this project, termed “disassembly-reassembly of a species-rich ecosystem prior to surface mining” was vetted by members of the interdepartmental Restoration Ecology Team (RET) in 2010 and more fully developed in 2011. It will utilize the scientific power of multiple research areas, including mycology, plant genetics, vegetation ecology, horticulture, systematic and spatial metrics. We convened a leadership panel, composed of six Kew personnel and one outside collaborator, to develop a preliminary proposal for submission to a potential funding source in November 2011. The same proposal will be generalized into a research template that can be applied to the restoration of any species-rich or complex ecosystem.
2) Establishment of an “Ecological Restoration Alliance” of Botanic Gardens: A steering committee was formed, composed of representatives from large and small botanic gardens, to establish an alliance of botanic gardens to perform ecological restoration on a global scale. That committee met twice in 2011, the first time at the New York Botanical Garden (April) and the second time at Brackenhurst Botanic Garden outside of Nairobi, Kenya (October). The committee developed and adopted a declaration, concept paper, 20 year programme structure, an administrative structure and a funding strategy. These are now being incorporated into an MOU that, when signed in May 2012, will initiate a major fund raising effort.
3) Performing a Grassland Restoration Experiment at Kew: In order to deliver Kew’s research and educational mission, we have designed a restoration ecology project in the vicinity of the Quarantine House. This project is an experiment concerning the effect of seed mix composition on the maintenance of native species richness in acid grassland. During 2011 we collected locally sourced seeds of 14 species of native forbs and grasses. These will be bulked-up during 2012 for eventual sowing into replicated plots at different compositional ratios. A steering committee has been formed to guide development of this experiment and to eventually translate it into a visitor-oriented demonstration.
In addition to these programmatic pillars there are also 61 new or ongoing restoration projects being conducted by RET members in 2011.