Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Ecology and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Forest restoration, biodiversity and ecosystem functioning

Raf Aerts1 and Olivier Honnay2*

Author Affiliations

1 Division Forest, Nature and Landscape, University of Leuven, Celestijnenlaan 200E-2411, BE-3001 Leuven, Belgium

2 Laboratory of Plant Ecology, University of Leuven, Kasteelpark Arenberg 31-2435, BE-3001 Leuven, Belgium

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Ecology 2011, 11:29  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-11-29

Published: 24 November 2011

Abstract

Globally, forests cover nearly one third of the land area and they contain over 80% of terrestrial biodiversity. Both the extent and quality of forest habitat continue to decrease and the associated loss of biodiversity jeopardizes forest ecosystem functioning and the ability of forests to provide ecosystem services. In the light of the increasing population pressure, it is of major importance not only to conserve, but also to restore forest ecosystems.

Ecological restoration has recently started to adopt insights from the biodiversity-ecosystem functioning (BEF) perspective. Central is the focus on restoring the relation between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Here we provide an overview of important considerations related to forest restoration that can be inferred from this BEF-perspective.

Restoring multiple forest functions requires multiple species. It is highly unlikely that species-poor plantations, which may be optimal for above-ground biomass production, will outperform species diverse assemblages for a combination of functions, including overall carbon storage and control over water and nutrient flows. Restoring stable forest functions also requires multiple species. In particular in the light of global climatic change scenarios, which predict more frequent extreme disturbances and climatic events, it is important to incorporate insights from the relation between biodiversity and stability of ecosystem functioning into forest restoration projects. Rather than focussing on species per se, focussing on functional diversity of tree species assemblages seems appropriate when selecting tree species for restoration. Finally, also plant genetic diversity and above - below-ground linkages should be considered during the restoration process, as these likely have prominent but until now poorly understood effects at the level of the ecosystem.

The BEF-approach provides a useful framework to evaluate forest restoration in an ecosystem functioning context, but it also highlights that much remains to be understood, especially regarding the relation between forest functioning on the one side and genetic diversity and above-ground-below-ground species associations on the other. The strong emphasis of the BEF-approach on functional rather than taxonomic diversity may also be the beginning of a paradigm shift in restoration ecology, increasing the tolerance towards allochthonous species.