A Method for Evaluating Outcomes of Restoration When No Reference Sites Exist


  • J. Stephen Brewer,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biology, University of Mississippi, PO Box 1848, University, MS 38677, U.S.A.
      Address correspondence to J. S. Brewer, email jbrewer@olemiss.edu
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  • Timothy Menzel

    1. National Center for Physical Acoustics, University of Mississippi, University, MS 38677, U.S.A.
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Address correspondence to J. S. Brewer, email jbrewer@olemiss.edu


Ecological restoration typically seeks to shift species composition toward that of existing reference sites. Yet, comparing the assemblages in restored and reference habitats assumes that similarity to the reference habitat is the optimal outcome of restoration and does not provide a perspective on regionally rare off-site species. When no such reference assemblages of species exist, an accurate assessment of the habitat affinities of species is crucial. We present a method for using a species by habitat data matrix generated by biodiversity surveys to evaluate community responses to habitat restoration treatments. Habitats within the region are rated on their community similarity to a hypothetical restored habitat, other habitats of conservation concern, and disturbed habitats. Similarity scores are reinserted into the species by habitat matrix to produce indicator (I) scores for each species in relation to these habitats. We apply this procedure to an open woodland restoration project in north Mississippi (U.S.A.) by evaluating initial plant community responses to restoration. Results showed a substantial increase in open woodland indicators, a modest decrease in generalists historically restricted to floodplain forests, and no significant change in disturbance indicators as a group. These responses can be interpreted as a desirable outcome, regardless of whether species composition approaches that of reference sites. The broader value of this approach is that it provides a flexible and objective means of predicting and evaluating the outcome of restoration projects involving any group of species in any region, provided there is a biodiversity database that includes habitat and location information.