How are Habitats Restored?
It’s hard to find a corner of the Earth that hasn’t been disturbed by human activities. That’s bad news for those of us who seek pristine habitats to study and preserve in addition to the negative environmental impact that this is having on all life on Earth, including humans. But there is good news. Most of the damage which is inflicted upon these disturbed habitats is at least partially reversible through ecological restoration or rehabilitation. Ecological restoration refers to the process of repairing damage caused by humans to biodiversity and the dynamics of natural ecosystems. Restoration biologists and conservation managers practice habitat rehabilitation by systematically replanting forests, restoring wetlands, repairing native prairies, restoring streams, and removing exotic species which often have negative effects on native plants and animals, in addition to reclaiming former industrial sites and reintroducing native species to their native habitats.
There are a variety of approaches that scientists employ to restore habitats. They include the following measures:
• Habitat Restoration: This refers to the return of a particular degraded habitat or ecosystem to a condition as similar as possible to its original natural state. This can often be the most complex and expensive form of habitat restoration.
• Habitat Rehabilitation. Scientists may opt to rehabilitate an area by turning a degraded ecosystem into a functional or useful habitat which may or may not necessarily restore it to its original condition. Common examples include removing pollutants and replanting native species to reduce soil erosion in areas such as mining sites, landfills, and clear-cut forests.
• Ecosystem Replacement: This attempted approach aims to replace a degraded ecosystem with another type of ecosystem. For example, a productive pasture or tree farm may replace a degraded forest. However, this can often have more problems than it attempts to solve.
• Artificial ecosystems. Scientists use artificial ecosystems in order to mimic ecological processes that aid in resource management. For example, managers may create artificial wetlands to reduce flooding or to treat sewage.
By using these strategies, scientists can do a great deal to repair ecosystems that have been degraded due to human activities. In all attempts, however, it is important that the correct strategy is selected based on identifying the cause, stopping or reducing the abuse, and reintroducing native species that may have been displaced due to the habitat degradation.