Restoring Land for Livelihoods Can Have Ecological Advantages, Study Suggests
Small-scale restoration efforts that aim to assist meet livelihood needs have the potential to contribute to ecological goals within the central Indian landscape, in keeping with a latest study published in Restoration Ecology.
The study was led by restoration ecologist Pooja Choksi, a recent graduate of Columbia University, and co-founder of Project Dhvani, a long-term acoustics research collaboration. She and her colleagues used sound recorders to observe changes within the soundscape after a restoration project in Madhya Pradesh, India. Their findings could have implications for restoration efforts happening world wide.
In 2017, local communities together with the state forest department and the Foundation for Ecological Security began removing an invasive shrub, Lantana camara, from a forest in Mandla district in Madhya Pradesh. The shrub — originally introduced by British colonists within the 1800s — makes it difficult for native trees to sprout, which generally is a problem not just for wildlife but for individuals who rely upon the trees for firewood and other products.
Although the restoration effort within the Mandla district was carried out to learn the local people, Choksi and her colleagues desired to see how the trouble might affect biodiversity in the realm. They tied acoustic recorders to trees in three varieties of areas: the restored area, forest with naturally low densities of L. camara, and forest with high densities of the invasive shrub. They left the recorders up for 2 years, and used the information collected to grasp the impact of restoration.
The researchers found that the restored site had a distinct community composition of birds — for instance, although the entire variety of bird species was the identical across all of the sites, the researchers observed that the restored site appeared to have fewer generalist species than the unrestored sites. Nonetheless, it’s not yet clear whether the changes are positive or negative for the ecosystem.
“We simply take this as an indication of change with changes within the habitat,” said Choksi. “Given how slowly tropical dry forests regenerate, I feel it is going to take a number of more years to see changes in these forests, if any.”
The findings suggest that the soundscape was more energetic on the restoration site, “which is usually a positive sign for ecological health,” said Choksi. Nonetheless, she cautions that this might be a short lived effect of the animals reorganizing after the disruption of the L. camara removal.
The researchers conclude that small-scale restoration efforts that aim to assist meet livelihood needs may contribute small biodiversity advantages over short timescales.
The United Nations has named 2021-2030 the “Decade on Ecosystem Restoration,” with the goal of stopping and reversing the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. Consequently, there are numerous ongoing and planned restoration efforts world wide, including in India. With those restoration efforts comes the necessity to observe the long-term social and ecological impacts, and the brand new study shows that measuring soundscapes could be an efficient method to accomplish that.
The study’s co-authors included Ruth DeFries, Vijay Ramesh, and Sarika Khanwilkar of Columbia University’s Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology; Mayuri Kotian, Siddharth Biniwale, Pravar Mourya of Project Dhvani; independent researcher Devendra Korche; and Meghna Agarwala of Ashoka University.