In this post Renato Crouzeilles discusses his recent paper with Michael Curran ‘Which landscape size best predicts the influence of forest cover on restoration success? A global meta-analysis on the scale of effect

Landscape context is a strong predictor of species persistence, abundance and distribution, yet its influence on the success of ecological restoration remains unclear. Thus, a primary question arises: which landscape size best predicts the effects of forest cover on restoration success? To answer this question, we conducted a global meta-analysis for biodiversity (mammals, birds, invertebrates, herpetofauna and plants) and measures of vegetation structure (cover, density, height, biomass and litter).

Response ratios were calculated for comparisons between reference (e.g. old-growth forest) and disturbed sites (degraded or restored). Using an information-theoretic approach, mean response ratio (restoration success) and response ratio variance (restoration predictability) within each study landscape were regressed against the percentage of overall (summed forest cover) and contiguous (summed pixels of ≥ 60% forest cover) forest within eight different buffer sizes of radius 5–200 km (at 1-km resolution). We included 247 studies encompassing 196 study landscapes and 4360 quantitative comparisons. The best buffer (landscape) size varied for: (i) overall and contiguous forest cover, (ii) biodiversity and vegetation structure, and (iii) mean response ratio and response ratio variance.

Restoration_Jerônimo Sansevero
An area in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil ca. 30 years after regeneration. Photo credit: Jerônimo Sansevero.

Only plant biodiversity was influenced by overall forest cover (buffer size of 5, 10 and 200 km radii), while plants (10 and 200 km radii), mammals (5, 10 and 50–200 km radii), invertebrates (5 and 10 km radii), cover (5 km radii), height (5 km radii) and litter (100 km radii) were influenced by contiguous forest cover.

Overall, mean response ratio and response ratio variance were positively and negatively non-linearly related with both overall and contiguous forest cover, respectively.

We reveal for the first time a clear pattern of increasing restoration success and decreasing uncertainty as contiguous forest cover increases. We also indicate preliminary recommended buffer sizes for investigating landscape restoration effects on biodiversity and vegetation structure. However, the coarse grain and variability in the data mean the optimal landscape size may not have been detected, thus further research is needed. When setting targets for ecological restoration, policymakers and restoration practitioners should account for: i) the landscape context, particularly the amount of contiguous habitat up to 10 km around a disturbed site; and ii) the uncertainty in restoration success, as it increases when contiguous forest cover falls below about 50%.