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SER Awards Research Medals

Thursday, January 17, 2019  
Posted by: Rebecca Shoer
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SER recently presented the Bradshaw Medal to two outstanding papers published in its peer-reviewed journal, Restoration Ecology. Named for famed British ecologist and restoration pioneer Tony Bradshaw, the award honors scientific papers that advance the field of restoration ecology in a significant way. The recognized studies were:

Dispersal and establishment filters influence the assembly of restored prairie plant communities (2015) by Emily Grman, Tyler Bassett, Chad R. Zirbel, and Lars A. Brudvig; and Quandaries of a decadelong restoration experiment trying to reduce invasive species: beat them, join them, give up, or start over? (2016) by Susan Cordell, Rebecca Ostertag, Jené Michaud, and Laura Warman.

SER spoke with lead authors Dr. Emily Grman and Dr. Susan Cordell to find out more about their ground-breaking research.

Dr. Emily Grman is an Assistant Professor at Eastern Michigan University. Her research focuses on interactions between species and the consequences of these interactions for communities, ecosystems, and restoration. This particular study tested the dispersal and establishment of native seeds in prairie habitats.

Grman and fellow researchers found that the number of seed species planted, versus the species of adult plants that survive, often varies. “I think the result that surprised me the most from this paper was the consistent difference between seed mixes and established prairie communities--some species show up almost every time they are sown, and some are rarely detected,” she says.

This variability is critical for practitioners to understand – different species require different conditions to grow and thrive. “I think land managers have an intuitive sense of which species are reliable and which aren't, but it's useful for researchers to get some numbers on that. I hope practitioners weigh in on whether their experiences are similar in other regions. Furthermore,” Grman says, “these results can point us towards future research: we know which species we can help by sowing in higher densities, and which species need additional help (though we may not yet know what kind of help will be most effective).”

Dr. Susan Cordell is the Director of the Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry in Hawai’i, which provides “the scientific and technical information needed to restore, conserve, and sustain tropical forests and wetlands of the Pacific.” Her study investigated the most effective way to reforest native species in Hawai’i to recover biodiversity. It took many years of trial and error to develop what she hopes will be an effective restoration strategy. “We were struggling with how to effectively restore lowland wet forests in Hawai’i – which is a critically endangered ecosystem,” says Cordell. “We felt defeated because we realized that these restored systems were not resilient enough to walk away – and that they would always need a human hand to survive.”

After several initial setbacks while trying to prevent invasive species in restoration sites, the researchers developed a “hybrid” restoration system: plant native trees with non-native, non-invasive species to mimic native Hawai’ian systems. “Short-term outcomes do not translate to long-term trajectories… this led to our hybrid restoration idea – to use non-native but non-invasive species together with native species to increase the resilience of these restored ecosystems.”

Both Grman and Cordell’s research provides critical insights for restoration practitioners working on their own projects in a variety of other contexts. An important lesson from both studies? Long-term monitoring is key to any restoration plan – for a project to succeed, practitioners and researchers must track its progress from season to season, and year to year. Without monitoring, the kinds of lessons that Grman and Cordell learned can never be understood and shared with the global restoration community.