Ecological Restoration Using Natural Communities

Many people, both professionals and volunteers, are active across many parks to help improve the natural conditions. The most typical activities involve the removal of invasive species as a way to reduce pressure on native plants and assist the regeneration of natural ecosystems. In some parks, an additional activity of adding native plants is also being pursued in collaboration with county or city officials.

Direction for Restoration Activity

The Natural Community data can serve as the basis for deciding what plants to add to parks and natural areas. The data can help ensure that planting efforts are contributing to resilient and functioning ecosystems and that any plants are likely to succeed.

Precision in targeting of efforts can improve using the Natural Community research.

Pilot Efforts are Underway

Volunteers have been using the Natural Community data to influence restoration actions in parks.

The initial findings from that work are encouraging!

Simplification of the data and making it more accessible appears to have substantial benefit

The Value of Using the New Approach

We have tried to determine if the extra work required to assess specific Natural Communities is worth it, as guidance traditionally has not used this information. The analysis appears to show substantial benefit from this approach.

Not using the Natural Community research appears to result in poorer outcomes. Plants that are added do not thrive; efforts are wasted. In an era where every hour spent on ecological restoration needs to be highly effective, leveraging the best science will yield better results. Scientists call these targets "Reference Ecosystems".

Further Discussion of Abundance Category Rare

A bit more discussion of the species identifed as "Rare" (a better descriptor would probably be "Infrequent"). Rare species should not be added as a general rule. Doing so will not be optimal from a resource allocation perspective. It would not necessarily be a “mistake” if one added a species from the Rare category, as long as it is found locally regardless. However, if one considers that effectiveness of resource deployment is a big issue and that restoration resources are extremely limited generally, then the value of focusing on Dominant, Common, and Sparse species becomes apparent. For these are the plants that have been “proven” to co-exist well and which serve as the backbone of the Natural Community. The Restricted and Rare list can be thought of as plants that exist and function in the community but are probably driven by specific micro-conditions on the ground.