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.
Ecological restoration is the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. (Society for Ecological Restoration ). Ecological restoration is a relatively new science that provides the knowledge and tools needed to return an ecosystem to health. Restoration works to enhance the process of ecological succession. After a disturbance such as a fire or a storm, succession occurs naturally as plants and wildlife return to the area and re-establish a complex network of interdependent species. Where an ecosystem has been damaged by man, the process of succession must be facilitated by human intervention. Non-native plants and wildlife that have invaded an area are removed; erosion control measures are put into place, and native species are re-planted.
For a restoration to be successful, it is essential to have understanding of the dynamics of the ecosystem being restored, and to ensure the genetic integrity of its plants by using locally propagated species.
Botanic gardens are uniquely positioned to play a leadership role in ecosystem restoration on a global scale. Over the centuries, botanic gardens have accumulated a wealth of knowledge on the genetic, physiological, horticultural and ecological characteristics of plants. They have acted as long-term stewards of rare and threatened species, and hold a rich and well-documented repository of plants and seeds from around the world.
Botanic gardens have launched successful restoration projects throughout the world. Their expertise in teaching, training and outreach, and their mission for public service gives them the capacity to work with local communities, providing the tools and knowledge to achieve long-term restoration goals.
Members of the Dai ethnic minority replant an area of forest on a hill that is considered as a holy site at Mangyangguan, Xishuangbanna, China. Photo: Barney Wilczak