Is there a biological rationale for the Framework Species Approach to land restoration?
In many countries most natural systems have already been severely degraded or are under threat, especially in tropical regions where many ecosystems are damaged and are not producing the services needed for sustainable development. These ecosystems need to be restored to full function, and development of good practical techniques is needed, especially for developing countries trying to meet their responsibilities under the Convention on Biological Diversity and their development aspirations.
Restoration is often needed to restore land damaged by mineral extraction, overexploitation by agriculture and inappropriate logging. Recently, a novel approach has been devised in Australia and further developed in Thailand – the Framework Species Approach (FSA) - which appears to offer some promise for successful ecosystem restoration. Here, a suite of selected species (Framework Species, FS) are planted, colonize the site and stimulate subsequent ecosystem development by encouraging natural seed dispersal (wind, birds and mammals). To facilitate site colonization, species are selected on the basis that they grow rapidly, have high survival during the harsh conditions of the dry season, are resilient to fire and provide a canopy quickly, which reduces the weedy ground vegetation and hence the fire risk. The reduction in fire risk is of particular importance as it allows the forest to regenerate - to some extent free of massive disturbance. To stimulate further succession, another selection criterion is the rapid production of fleshy fruits or nectar-rich flowers that attract seed-dispersing wildlife into the site. The choice of the FS is also to some extent pragmatic: species must be easily propagated and some practitioners select species of economic value or practical use.The FSA method has proved remarkably successful in northern Thailand, and currently its use is being tested in China, Cambodia, Laos and Uganda. At the moment the choice of FS is based largely on nursery research and field trials, which are expensive and time consuming. The justification for this project is to build on this initial success by developing an underpinning biological rationale for species selection, enhancing the selection procedure to make more use of published morphological and physiological functional traits and testing this in practice. Analyzing reliable existing, or rapidly-collectable trait data to pull out the species likely to succeed would shorten and simplify the trial process. Species' performance has been shown to be linked to plant traits in the restoration of grasslands, but this approach has not been rigorously tested with regard to forest restoration.
The research uses a combination of eco-informatics, laboratory screening and simple field experiments to answer specific questions on the relationship between species' functional traits and their performance in restoration sites. Ultimately, the project will provide a valuable biological/ecological underpinning of a novel approach to restoration ecology, which has been designed from a practical viewpoint.
Project Leader: Dickie, John B.
Principle Investigator - Supervisor
Prof. Robert Marrs, University of Liverpool
Hannah Betts, University of Liverpool
James Hartwell, University of Liverpool
Kew Co- supervisor and contact
Project Partners and Collaborators
University of Liverpool: Prof. Robert Marrs, Dr James Hartwell
Dr Stephen Elliot, Forest Restoration Unit, Chiang Mai University