Restoring native veg in an agricultural landscape

Since European settlement, one-third of Australia’s woodlands, including 80% of southern temperate woodlands, have been cleared. In many agricultural areas the remaining native vegetation is highly fragmented. In these areas, traditional conservation strategies based on protection of intact landscapes as large individual reserves are difficult to apply.

In heavily cleared agricultural landscapes, declines of biodiversity could be prevented by restoring native habitat. This study is motivated by the need to support decision making by environmental managers and policy makers in Australia who are responsible for meeting or contributing to this restoration. Their decision-making task is challenging for a range of reasons. First, in highly fragmented landscapes, spatial context determines the benefits of landscape restoration. Second, ecological restoration in an agricultural landscape faces high restoration costs and high opportunity costs due to loss of productive land. The public funding available to support restoration is modest, so high-quality prioritization of effort is required. Third, the outcome of ecological restoration depends on a number of factors, including site selection, cooperation of landowners (where restoration is planned on private lands, and predictions of species distributions. The latter requires detailed information that often is not available for many of the target species.

Maksym Polyakov and colleagues have developed a spatially-explicit bio-economic model that attempts to meet these challenges by optimizing ecological restoration of habitat for woodland-dependent birds in Victoria.

Spatial optimization identifies strategies that would generate substantially greater environmental benefits than are likely to be achieved in current programs. Greater biodiversity outcomes can be expected where restoration is optimized across multiple species rather than just individual species, and if the program does not require an even distribution of restoration effort among farmers.


Reference

Polyakov M, DJ Pannell, M Chalak, G Park, A Roberts & AD Rowles (2015). Restoring Native Vegetation in an Agricultural Landscape: Spatial Optimization for Woodland Birds. Land Economics 91: 252–271. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/land_economics/v091/91.2.polyakov.html

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