Ecological restoration for changing mountain ecosystems: Institutions and goals

Authors: Sisimac Duchicela*, University of Texas - Austin, Kenneth R. Young, University of Texas at Austin
Topics: Biogeography, Human-Environment Geography, Global Change
Keywords: Andes Mountains, biodiversity conservation, climate change, ecological restoration
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 11
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Ecological restoration goals are perplexing to develop given directional climate change affecting ecosystem dynamism. Coincident socioeconomic transitions in mountain regions can alter, augment, or decrease ecological processes of change. Thus, we suggest that the rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems should continue, but might need to be viewed as a “business as usual” approach, not sufficient in terms of the institutional challenges of also addressing likely future change trajectories. Typically, goal setting for ecological restoration projects entails obtaining a reference site that is either considered an unaltered state of the targeted degraded ecosystem or that is meant to be a historical portrayal of an ecosystem that once occurred in that same location. Instead, we propose that 1) climate change creates shifting baselines for ecological restoration, and 2) experiments are needed in order to predict future baselines. We illustrate these points through fieldwork done in three sites in Ecuador and Peru, which range from deforested montane forest to high elevation páramo and puna sites. From these experiences, we found that ecological restoration needs to be adaptable to changes in climatic and ecological conditions in specific landscape contexts. Doing so requires that predictive models and/or experimentation be done as part of goal setting. We found especially challenging the need for simultaneously evaluating land use and shifting environmental baselines, in an ecological restoration context. The methods utilized in other mountain sites may need to be assessed with monitoring, and attention should be paid to the social, educational, legal, and economic implications of those approaches.

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