Biodiversity is inherently connected to forest landscape restoration, but conceptualising this relationship has been elusive – until now. A new publication called, ‘Biodiversity guidelines for forest landscape restoration opportunities assessments’ is intended to provide more context, more resources and fresh perspectives to the ongoing global interaction between biodiversity conservation and forest landscape restoration.
IUCN.ORG invited two of the authors, Neil Cox of the IUCN Global Species & Key Biodiversity Areas Programme, and Craig Beatty of the IUCN Global Forest and Climate Programme to share some insights on why they felt that guidelines were needed for integrating biodiversity and forest landscape restoration (FLR).
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What inspired this publication?
Craig: When we talk about increasing ecological productivity in degraded landscapes, what we’re actually talking about, in many cases, is increasing biodiversity and supporting a landscape’s ecology. We’ve had the opportunity to facilitate assessments of restoration opportunity in over two dozen countries, all with somewhat different objectives for restoration, but all of which ultimately depend on supporting species and all the services they provide to our societies and economies. As the Bonn Challenge achieves its ambition – upwards of 350 million hectares of degraded and deforested land under restoration by 2030 – these guidelines will help in the process.
Almost all of the large-scale landscape degradation has taken place in the last 100 years, and certainly its pace has increased in the past 25–50 years. This relatively short time-frame means that in a lot of places the species, relationships and seed banks are still somewhat intact and, although degraded, many places and people still retain some ecological memory. Restoration at the scale we work has an enormous potential to both reduce threats and pressures on existing biodiversity and to use restoration to increase and support biodiversity gains across landscapes – it also happens that there are other international conventions, agreements, and initiatives that rely on supporting biodiversity as well.
Neil: For me, it is being aware that all this knowledge and expertise in restoration and species conservation is available to support the Bonn Challenge, but at the same time being conscious that the connection between FLR practitioners and conservation biologists could readily be strengthened globally with just a simple document on improving connections between the two.
We’re now at a point in history where we need to both enforce the conservation of remaining natural habitat, and accelerate the process of returning often degraded land to an ecologically viable condition – not simply just for species conservation, but also for our own benefit.
How do we know whether a landscape is biodiverse?
Craig: There has been a lot of work published on the distribution of biodiversity, especially in the last 20 years or so – and what’s great about that is that there are many different studies that tend to corroborate on density of species – but that doesn’t mean we know everything. IUCN has completed Red List assessments for entire taxonomic groups including mammals, birds, amphibians, conifers, and soon-to-come reptiles, and this work is a critical means of assessing the status of particular species in landscape. This is greatly assisted by the Red List of Ecosystems, which is working to map and assess the conservation status of all the world’s ecosystems by 2025. We can also use data on Key Biodiversity Areas which delineate areas that are important for biodiversity throughout the world.
However, these resources might not exactly get at your question. There are ways that we can measure biodiversity, but knowing whether a landscape is biodiverse or not – or what level of biodiversity is acceptable or achievable in degraded and deforested landscapes – will be another question entirely. It will depend very much on the stakeholders involved in asking this question. What these Guidelines hope to provide is a framework for the diversity of stakeholders in a landscape assessment process, like the Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology (ROAM), to answer these questions as best as they can to achieve the restoration objectives they’ve set, including those for biodiversity, explicit or not.
Neil: It’s a fairly open question, but in general if you take an ecological view of available habitats within a landscape, a picture emerges of natural habitat being the most biodiverse areas of that landscape, especially if these are in a somewhat ‘intact’ condition. Natural habitats have often developed over millennia and the genetic, species and ecological biodiversity are more diverse than in human-modified areas.
While natural habitats are highly important for their biodiversity value alone, they can also regularly provide the foundation for the restoration of surrounding degraded or modified lands into functionally more productive areas. These areas act as ‘biodiversity banks’ containing the plant seeds, fungi, pollinators, vertebrates and other biological components so essential to restoring degraded landscapes.
How does a land manager or policy maker begin to incorporate biodiversity into their FLR strategy?
Craig: Well, the first step is mentioning it – that goes a long way. To this I would add that in addition to incorporating biodiversity into strategies that are being formed, it’s also important to recognise where biodiversity or species are already included in policies, initiatives, and strategies. Economic policies are replete with cloaked references to biodiversity when they mention ‘natural resources’ or ‘natural capital’, so land managers or policy makers looking to incorporate biodiversity typically don’t have to look further than their current work to extract some connection to the many services that other species provide. Of course, when plans for restoration are drawn, a specific focus on biodiversity for use in the implementation of these strategies will be key, especially to mitigate risk and increase the chances of long-term restoration success. One of the specific recommendations in these guidelines is to enlist the services of a classical ecologist along with a local naturalist—the earlier in the process the better. There is also a table in the guidelines that briefly outlines biodiversity alignments for many of the typical objectives of FLR.
Neil: As Craig mentioned, the value of pairing a classical ecologist with local naturalist cannot be underestimated. If there is an intent to include biodiversity as a consideration to improve the functionality of land for restoration, a knowledge of the local fauna and flora along, their functional traits and solid experience in how to begin the often-lengthy process of re-establishing native plants, fungi and animals in the landscape is key. The other consideration is that restoration with a biodiversity element can be a very long-term endeavour. Remember, most tress don’t grow overnight! There is a need to be aware of this from the start of the overall project planning process. Often we’re talking decades for some slow-growing species of plants to re-establish, even with a little help from people, which makes the alignment of the 2030 targets for landscape restoration and the post 2020 biodiversity framework even more complementary.
If a land manager considering restoration could take away just one concept after reading this publication, what would you like it to be?
Craig: Everything that we do takes place within the living world, human prosperity and its opposites included. Land managers should always be considering some form of restoration since landscapes are active and dynamic and human success often depends on a sustainable relationship with what landscapes provide. But FLR is not only about planting trees. Again, restoration is not only about planting trees. FLR should support increasing ecological productivity, and this means utilising restoration to support genetic diversity within both wild and agricultural species. FLR can support species diversity for both native and agricultural species, and FLR needs to support a diversity of ecosystems and habitat types within landscapes. Part of this effort will focus on species choices but I think these guidelines also support a focus on the processes and relationships among the components of biodiversity that we can integrate into our hopes for landscape restoration.
To take away, I hope those with the interest or mandate to consider biodiversity in landscape decisions can use these guidelines to effectively communicate biodiversity to all the other departments, ministries, conventions, projects, and initiatives within their landscapes and purview. Ultimately, I hope that these guidelines will make is easier for land managers to justify the effort required to explicitly include biodiversity and its components in a large portion of the 350 million hectares of FLR to come (see the Bonn Challenge).
Neil: I think the immediate thing that comes to mind is that land management or restoration efforts should more often see the win-win benefits of considering biodiversity conservation within management plans. We outline in the guidelines the many ways that biodiversity can contribute to both the well-being of people, and hopefully this value will increasingly be recognised.
NOTE: This publication was officially launched at a July 12th side event during the Convention on Biological Diversity, 22nd meeting of the SBSTTA and 2nd meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Implementation in Montreal, Canada. For more on the side event: https://www.cbd.int/side-events/2495
These guidelines have been submitted for information to the CBD parties as CBD/SBI/2/INF/19 (https://www.cbd.int/doc/c/b478/9c03/53007ea8fc8f50fe31161fd3/sbi-02-inf-19-en.pdf) in support of the implementation of the Short Term Action Plan on Ecosystem Restoration. The guidelines have been referenced in CBD/SBI/2/10/Add.2 which is under consideration of the parties for agenda item 11 of the 2nd meeting of the Subsidiary Body of Implementation (“cooperation with other conventions, international conventions and initiatives”), which will be discussed on Wednesday, July 12th at the SBI2 meeting in Montreal.