Referencing is Central to Ecological Restoration?

Vijaylakshmi Suman

Ecologists use referencing information in ecological restoration to define pre-set goals and approach to evaluating the success of a project. The larger goal is also to determine the condition under which restored ecosystem would sustain on its own. The selection and use of reference information is a central and defining issue for restoration ecology. Though the reference information is a bit difficult to implement due to variation in time and space. Ecosystem varies at several spatial and temporal scales. Despite these challenges, it is one of the foremost processes of ecosystem restorations. Instead of focusing on the importance and implication of reference, I would like to move the focus towards precise role and relevance of ‘reference’, particularly in wetland restoration.

Reference ecosystem apart from setting up goals also facilitate to evaluate for success or failure of restoration projects. Moorhead suggests that it is not an appropriate way for evaluation. Rather he is of the opinion that failure or success should be assessed on condition of the site before disturbance and also before restoration. Due to a lack of required historic information about the site before disturbance in most of the cases, we rely on reference to prove success. It can be evaluated by comparing the restored site with non-degraded reference system which can be used as a pre-set goal for restoration (Moorhead, 2013).

Nonetheless, during initial research for Dheerpur wetland, few issues emerged in relation to reference. Archives had few records but tracing back for 50 years was not easy. In urban areas, the population is often floating, so it becomes bit dubious to rely on memories of people residing near the restoration site. While conducting research I faced two challenges. First, the lack of suitable reference site in urban areas. Second, in the case of restoring wetland, it is not practical to restore the natural flow of water by deconstructing dams and barrage. All these aspects certainly question the relevance of referencing in restoration particularly in an urban context where the landscape itself has been transformed drastically. Above discussion arises doubt for banking on referencing as central to restoration but if not, is there any alternative?


White, P. S., & Walker, J. L. (1997). Approximating nature’s variation: selecting and using reference information in restoration ecology. Restoration Ecology5(4), 338-349.

Moorhead, K.K. (2013). A realistic role for reference in wetland restoration. Ecological Restoration, 31(4), 347-352.

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