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Ecological Restoration in a Developing Island Nation: How Useful is the Science?


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Restoration science is a relatively young branch of ecology that is growing in importance owing to the sheer scale and trend of habitat degradation worldwide and the range of strong benefits that it is seen to potentially carry. Although spearheaded mainly by developed countries, its usefulness at least for the conservation of biodiversity may be greatest in the developing world. Here we examine how Mauritius, a developing island nation that may be regarded as well equipped among developing countries in terms of access to restoration science, is using science to inform the ecological restoration of its degraded native habitats for biodiversity conservation. While Mauritius is known for a number of proactive and at times innovative approaches that may even be setting the pace worldwide, we found that the restoration activities which are impacting the largest areas and an overwhelming proportion of native biodiversity of the country sometimes remain averse to even basic ecological principles. This includes the removal from restoration areas of fast growing native pioneer species with proven nurse-tree potential to be replaced by a multitude of nursery grown and much slower growing plants that would have naturally grown anyway. Besides representing setbacks to areas undergoing restoration, this elevates restoration costs in the face of scarcity of conservation resources and urgency to restore more than the tiny and isolated areas currently targeted. Research worldwide continues to improve restoration science but blockages to knowledge transfer can seriously undermine its impact where it is most needed.