Integrating Soil Ecological Knowledge into Restoration Management


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The variability in the type of ecosystem degradation and the specificity of restoration goals can challenge restorationists’ ability to generalize about approaches that lead to restoration success. The discipline of soil ecology, which emphasizes both soil organisms and ecosystem processes, has generated a body of knowledge that can be generally useful in improving the outcomes of restoration despite this variability. Here, we propose that the usefulness of this soil ecological knowledge (SEK) for restoration is best considered in the context of the severity of the original perturbation, the goals of the project, and the resilience of the ecosystem to disturbance. A straightforward manipulation of single physical, chemical, or biological components of the soil system can be useful in the restoration of a site, especially when the restoration goal is loosely defined in terms of the species and processes that management seeks to achieve. These single-factor manipulations may in fact produce cascading effects on several ecosystem attributes and can result in unintended recovery trajectories. When complex outcomes are desired, intentional and holistic integration of all aspects of the soil knowledge is necessary. We provide a short roster of examples to illustrate that SEK benefits management and restoration of ecosystems and suggest areas for future research.