The Genetic Dimension of Eco-restoration

restoration genetics (3)

modified from Koch 2007

Restoration practitioners sometimes pioneer into new unchartered territory where they may face unexpected difficulties. One such area is the genome of species they work with and the way this underpins ecology.

What is the role of genetics in ecological restoration?

Ecological restoration has evolved in many instances by trial and error, from performing simple actions such as planting trees, to reinstalling complex ecological processes. Over time restoration practitioners have learnt that successful ecosystem restoration has multiple dimensions. For example, community structure, successional trajectory or ecosystem function are different dimensions that should be considered if a restored ecosystem is to be resilient, self-sustaining and persist over long periods. Lately, genetic diversity, inbreeding depression or local adaptation have cropped up as new items on the menu of options. Nothing surprising, one would say, that genes have an impact on ecosystems, but it is not easy to determine how and where genetics concepts may be used in a restoration context.

A timely article by Mijangos et al. (2015) reviews the different aspects where genetics have been used in restoration and how genetics may improve restoration practices and increase their rate of success. The authors assert that genetics has several important applications in restoration. For example, it has been shown that survival rates of re-introduced plant species were much higher when genetic diversity of the target species was included in the project design (Godefroid et al. 2011). Genetic information is also a valuable for monitoring and evaluation of restoration interventions and can thus inform project decisions. For example, genetics tools have been used in monitoring the reproductive success of restored fish populations (Bausteiger et al. 2008) or the functioning of ecological corridors (Paetkau et al. 2009).

Mijangos et al. (2015) highlight the idea that if ecological restoration is going to be an effective response to the loss of biodiversity, not only must it recover degraded ecosystems and species but should also restore genetic diversity. This is a recall to the definition of biodiversity itself, which incorporates multiple layers of diversity. Hopefully this article will encourage both geneticists and ecologists to delve into the genetics of restoration.


  • Baumsteiger J, Hand DM, Olson DE, et al. (2008) Use of parentage analysis to determine reproductive success of hatchery-origin spring Chinook salmon outplanted into Shitike Creek, Oregon. North American Journal of Fisheries Management, 28, 1472-1485.
  • Godefroid S, Piazza C, Rossi G, et al. (2011) How successful are plant species reintroductions? Biological Conservation, 144, 672-682.
  • Koch JM (2007) Alcoa’s mining and restoration process in South Western Australia. Restoration Ecology15, S11-S16
  • Mijangos JL, Pacioni C, Spencer PBS, Craig MD (2015) Contribution of genetics to ecological restoration. Molecular Ecology, 24, 22–37.
  • Paetkau D, Vazquez-Dominguez E, Tucker NIJ, Moritz C (2009) Monitoring movement into and through a newly planted rainforest corridor using genetic analysis of natal origin. Ecological Management and Restoration, 10, 210-216.

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