Ecology Programmes Understanding global-scale ecology to combat climate change

Biodiversity loss, climate change, and rural poverty are global threats driven by the unsustainable exploitation of natural ecosystems. The effective restoration of forests worldwide, can potentially reduce the risks these threats pose to humankind. Most efforts to restore forests are small and local. There are thousands of these efforts worldwide. Thousands more are needed. But too many fail, or fall short of their goals for a wide range of entirely avoidable reasons. Trees are planted in soils that cannot support them, or at the wrong density or diversity levels etc., so that healthy forests cannot survive. It is not just financial, legal and political constraints that stand in the way of success, but a limited ecological knowledge and the skill to wield that knowledge effectively.

These three global threats continue to grow at increasing rates. Yet, a considerable proportion of restoration efforts fail because of decisions that are not ecologically informed. Every restoration campaign that fails to restore forest biodiversity or carbon storage is another waste of vital time and resources. We need to improve the success of local forest restoration efforts if we are going to have a chance to dampen these global threats. Restoration officers across the world urgently need access to basic information about the ecological status of their respective regions in order to make ecologically-informed restoration strategies.

We are supporting the establishment of a unique research group at ETH Zurich to generate global maps of ecological information to guide local, national and international forest restoration. The research of this group will provide restoration officers across the globe with maps of important ecological information about their local region that is necessary to maximize the effectiveness of their efforts. With immediate access to free information about the carbon storage potential in their local region, along with the biodiversity of trees, soil microbes and animals that is necessary to store this carbon, forest managers will be able to develop ecologically-informed restoration strategies with a far higher likelihood of success.

The research can provide ecological information that is urgently needed by thousands of restoration campaigns. This information may be critical to avoid the failure of restoration efforts, particularly in ‘hard-to-reach’ areas of the world that do not have access to cutting edge ecological resources. Rather than focusing on any single important restoration project, our research aims to facilitate many local campaigns across the world.

This ecological information can pervade the conservation community, aiding many on-the-ground restoration campaigns. If we could improve the success of even 20% of current and future forest restoration efforts, then the research would considerably improve our prospects in the fights against biodiversity loss, climate change and rural poverty.