Starting this month: ten years of special attention for restoring ecosystems worldwide

Clue Field
© Martijn Bezemer

Starting this month: ten years of special attention for restoring ecosystems worldwide


Press inquiries

The United Nations has launched its 'Decade on Ecosystem Restoration': a rallying call for the protection and revival of ecosystems around the world. But what does it actually take for ecosystems to be restored, and how can ecological research contribute? We'll be exploring these questions with a number of NIOO-researchers. The first is soil biodiversity expert Wim van der Putten.

– How important is ecosystem restoration?

"Most of the world's ecosystems face disruption of one kind or another. Causes include excessive use, overhunting, overfishing, excessive wood harvesting and the intensification of agriculture. Other major factors are climate change, nitrogen deposition, dewatering and biological invasions. So there is definitely a worldwide need for ecosystem restoration."

 What do you need to know before you can restore a damaged ecosystem?

"It's important to know what the ecosystem looked like before it was damaged, what potential the restored ecosystem has and what factors are key to its successful restoration. Restoration doesn't necessarily mean going back to the way things's more a matter of futureproofing."

 – What does current research tell us?

"When it comes to terrestrial ecosystems, we know the soil is a key factor in successful ecosystem restoration. I'm not just talking about soil chemistry and soil physics, but also and especially about soil biology. The important thing in soil biology is the composition of the soil community and the structure of the soil foodweb, because that's what ultimately determines the health of the soil."

– What research is being done at NIOO that contributes to ecosystem restoration?

"At NIOO, we study the restoration of both terrestrial and (fresh)water ecosystems. For terrestrial ecosystems, the primary question is how soil life can be restored, because that's the basis for restoring vegetation and aboveground biodiversity. Just look at the work we're doing on former arable fields: soil transplantation is enabling us to speed up the restoration process by decades in some cases. Similarly, in freshwater environments, NIOO is using its knowledge of underwater foodwebs to achieve faster ecosystem restoration."

– Do you see differences between ecosystems on land and in water?

"Both on land and in water, you have to understand complex food relationships in order to restore them in an effective and sustainable way. But one difference is that in water, developments happen at a quicker pace than in the soil. Also, water ecosystems tend to be more interconnected. Another thing to consider is that poorly functioning soil can cause all kinds of problems in water. Eutrophication, pesticides, drainage peaks: poorly functioning land ecosystems may be to blame for all of these."

– Is there anything you want to draw particular attention to?

"Ecosystem restoration starts with the restoration of interactions. And most importantly: do not destroy ecosystems, so we do not need to restore them."