Increasing the Resilience of Ecological Restoration to Extreme Climatic Events
Incorporating climate change into ecological restoration is critical for preventing future invasions and building resilient native communities. Climate-smart restoration can include a spectrum of approaches from resisting change to directing ecosystems to a transformed state (learn more in ‘Embracing the Future’). However, most climate-smart projects consider graduate climate changes such as warming or sea level rise. Zabin et al. (2022) highlight the need to also consider extreme climatic events (ECEs). ECEs, such as heat waves, droughts, severe storms and flooding in the Northeast, are one of the most immediate threats caused by climate change, causing damage to native communities and providing opportunities for invasive species to colonize.
Zabin et al. (2022) examine the impacts of ECEs on restoration projects in 22 published studies, revealing a mix of positive and negative impacts. Different species and habitats were vulnerable to different extreme events, highlighting a need for restoration practitioners to incorporate a “portfolio approach” when selecting restoration sites and species. A portfolio approach involves applying the same restoration strategy to multiple habitat zones or species gene pools. In essence, diversifying the species and habitats that restoration is applied to can minimize the risk of an entire restoration project failing if an extreme climatic event occurs.
Take Home Points:
- ECEs have the potential to do significant damage to restoration projects if precautions are not taken. In several cases, ECEs have been reported to kill all restoration propagules planted.
- ECEs may not match the overall trend an area is experiencing due to climate change. An area that is trending warmer can still be vulnerable to extreme cold events (especially in the early spring if snowmelt disappears earlier).
- Damage from ECEs can be mitigated by distributing restoration efforts over a wider variety of areas and gene sources.
- Managers should consider the ECEs most likely to impact their region when diversifying their restoration projects. For example, areas with extreme precipitation events may benefit from applying restoration to diverse topography, such as low areas to protect against drought and high areas to protect against flooding, as well as diverse species sources that are able to tolerate both extremes.
- Particular life stages or genotypes of target species could be more vulnerable to ECEs. Ideally, restoration can be structured to reduce these vulnerabilities.
- Applying the portfolio approach through multiple restoration sites and methods prevents species at a site at risk from being as severely affected by an ECE.
- The development of future ECE protocols also needs to take into consideration what funding is available, the uncertainties that are par for the course with ECEs, and whether restoring over multiple sites and seasons is plausible.