TitleExplore before you restore: Incorporating complex systems thinking in ecosystem restoration
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2024
AuthorsMaes S.L, Perring M.P, Cohen R., Akinnifesi F.K, Bargues-Tobella A., Bastin J.-f., Bauters M., Bernardino P.N, Brancalion P.HS, Bullock J.M, Ellison D., Fayolle A., Fremout T., Gann G.D, Hishe H., Holmgren M., Ilstedt U., Mahy G., Messier C., Parr C.L, Ryan C.M, Sacande M., Sankaran M., Scheffer M.S, Suding K.N, Van Meerbeek K., Verbeeck H., Verbist B.JP, Verheyen K., Winowiecki L.A, Muys B.
Date Published03/2024

1. The global movement for ecosystem restoration has gained momentum in response to the Bonn Challenge (2010) and the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (UNDER, 2021-2030). While several science-based guidelines exist to aid in achieving successful restoration outcomes, significant variation remains in the outcomes of restoration projects. Some of this disparity can be attributed to unexpected responses of ecosystem components to planned interventions.

2. Given the complex nature of ecosystems, we propose that concepts from Complex Systems Science (CSS) that are linked to non-linearity, such as regime shifts, ecological resilience and ecological feedbacks, should be employed to help explain this variation in restoration outcomes from an ecological perspective.

3. Our framework, Explore Before You Restore, illustrates how these concepts impact restoration outcomes by influencing degradation and recovery trajectories. Additionally, we propose incorporating CSS concepts into the typical restoration project cycle through a CSS assessment phase and suggest that the need for such assessment is explicitly included in the guidelines to improve restoration outcomes.

4. To facilitate this inclusion and make it workable by practitioners, we describe indicators and methods available for restoration teams to answer key questions that should make up such CSS assessment. In doing so, we identify key outstanding science and policy tasks that are needed to further operationalize CSS assessment in restoration.

5. Synthesis and applications. By illustrating how key Complex Systems Science (CSS) concepts linked to non-linear threshold behaviour can impact restoration outcomes through influencing recovery trajectories, our framework Explore Before You Restore demonstrates the need to incorporate Complex Systems thinking in ecosystem restoration. We argue that inclusion of CSS assessment into restoration project cycles, and more broadly, into international restoration guidelines, may significantly improve restoration outcomes.