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Ecosystem Restoration & Management

What is Ecosystem Restoration?

When you visit a park and reflect on the trees, rocks, landscapes, and incredible views, you are viewing and appreciating ecosystems.  Ecosystems are collections of plants, animals, and micro-organisms interacting among themselves and with their habitat.  While most ecosystems are hard to define and draw rigid boundaries around, scientists characterize them by their rock and soil types, by water features such as streams and ponds, and by the common plant and animal species which make their homes within these areas.

Big Bend
Restoration at work: Lands that were added to Big Bend National Parkare degraded from intensive land use, leading to loss of native vegetation and over a foot of soil to erosion.NPS must evaluate short-term stabiliztion as well as conduct studies to decide on the appropriate condition for the site based on the level of degradation, and how to achieve that condition in a cost-effective way.

What is Ecosystem Management?

Ecosystem management brings an integrated perspective to natural resource management.  It takes a “big-picture” approach, replacing short term, single species management with multi-species, long-term and large-scale approaches.  For example, instead of managing for deer and elk to maximize viewing opportunities, the National Park Service manages for the entire ecosystem, considering not only deer, elk and other herbivore populations, but also vegetation, water flow, and predators and rare species.  Ecosystem management also recognizes the influence of natural disturbances such as fire and windstorms, accepting that natural ecosystems are dynamic and change over time.

Why do we need to restore ecosystems in National Parks?

Logging, grazing, mining, and other human activities have left a legacy of non-native vegetation, eroded soils, and altered fire patterns in our national parks. Some former park management techniques, such as fire suppression and elimination of predators, have led to declines in the integrity of the original ecosystems. In addition, invasive species, pollution, and climate change continuously threaten these systems.

Mycorrhizal fungi extend from roots to provide vital plant nutrients while binding soil aggregates. (R.M. Miller)

The goal of ecosystem restoration is not to replace a static picture of the past.  Instead, the National Park Service works to remove the barriers to ecosystem recovery.  These barriers include biological or chemical contaminants, drained wetlands, channelized rivers, alteration of fire patterns, or lack of species to re-populate areas of parks.  Whole-ecosystem approaches to management ensure not only the survival of species and scenic vistas, but also allows these systems to continuously evolve and change.

update on 08/03/2009  I   http://www.nature.nps.gov/biology/ecosystemrestoration/index.cfm   I  Email: Webmaster
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