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Ecol Appl. 2010 Apr;20(3):728-40.

Natural analogues of degraded ecosystems enhance conservation and reconstruction in extreme environments.

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  • 1Cliff Ecology Research Group, Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario N1G 2W1, Canada. pricha01@uoguelph.ca

Abstract

Ecosystem rehabilitation strategies are grounded in the concept that coexisting species fit their environments as an outcome of natural selection operating over ecological and evolutionary timescales. From this perspective, re-creation of historical environmental filters on community assembly is a necessary first step to recovering biodiversity within degraded ecosystems; however, this approach is often not feasible in severely damaged environments where extensive physiochemical changes cannot be reversed. Under such circumstances management goals may shift from restoring historical conditions to reconstructing entirely new ecosystems or replicating natural ecosystems that may be locally novel but of regional conservation importance. This latter goal may be achieved by introducing to damaged sites species already adapted to filters maintaining the degraded state, through targeting assemblages from natural ecosystems biophysically analogous to the degraded state, here termed "degraded-state analogue" (DSA) ecosystems. This hypothesis predicts that, in high-stress sites where recruitment of previous inhabitants is strongly microsite-limited, DSA species will be primarily propagule-limited; furthermore, communities invaded by DSA species should shift in structure to reflect properties associated with high-value DSA target ecosystems. We tested these predictions by experimentally sowing long-abandoned limestone quarry floors with 18 perennial grass and forb species characteristic of rare natural limestone pavements called "alvars." Alvar species established successfully under a range of microsite conditions manipulated to alter suspected constraints on colonization, including nitrogen deficiency, excessive CaCO3, and competition with weeds. Alvar species performed equivalently to seeded weed species known to thrive on quarry floors. Resident communities doubled in species richness following alvar species addition, supporting 17-20 species/0.18 m2 (95% confidence interval) and providing refuge to regionally restricted or threatened species including Iris lacustris, Solidago ptarmicoides, and Liatris cylindracea. In contrast, maximum-diversity reference plots on a pristine alvar supported 20-23 species/0.18 m2. Strong propagule limitation but weak microsite constraints on quarry colonization by alvar species combined with establishment of species-rich communities comparable to natural alvar biodiversity hot spots confirms that targeting DSA assemblages in ecosystem reconstruction can promote both efficient site colonization and ex situ biodiversity conservation within difficult-to-restore anthropogenic wastelands.

PMID:
20437959
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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