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Adding science to the landscape – Evert Thomas chats about restoration

Evert_Thomas_Colombia_Mahogany. Credit: Bioversity International/C. Alcazar Caicedo

With only three days to go until the long-anticipated Global Landscapes Forum, Bioversity International’s forest genetic resources researcher Evert Thomas chats about his latest research, what the term ‘landscape’ means to him and his hopes for the Forum, where Bioversity is co-hosting a side-event.

This year, the long-anticipated Global Landscapes Forum will take place in Lima, Peru from the 6th to 7th of December. With only three days to go, Bioversity International’s forest genetic resources researcher Evert Thomas chats about his latest research, what the term ‘landscape’ means to him and his hopes for the Forum, where Bioversity International is co-hosting a side-event. 

Q: What does a landscape mean to you and how would you define it?

A: A landscape is an area in geographical space where nature and culture meet. In an ideal world, landscapes are resilient, integrated systems that combine productive functions – when used for agriculture, for example – with nature conservation and the generation of ecosystem services. Today, many landscapes, or their parts, are in a degraded state and have lost most of their productivity. Landscape restoration is an effective way to recover this productivity, but requires careful planning at the landscape level.

To work at the landscape level is to look at the bigger picture. It is important that a restored area is connected to other vegetation elements in the landscape in order to facilitate the movement of animals and insects that pollinate trees and move their seeds around, allowing for the gradual migration of trees, for example, in response to climate change.

Q: Why is genetic diversity important in adaptation and restoration of forested ecosystems?

A: Restoration is not just about planting trees – it requires careful planning to select and collect the right seeds and there is quite a bit of science behind it. Without the planning and the science, restoration investments are likely to fail. One example of failed restoration that has stuck with me for many years dates back to the mid-eighties. Seeds of maritime pine (Pinus pinaster Aiton) from the Iberian Peninsula were used to establish plantations in the Landes region in France. Initially all went well; until the 1984/1985 winter, which was particularly cold, destroyed the entire plantation of 30,000 hectares (the size of more than 30,000 football fields placed one beside each other). The reason was that the planting material was not genetically adapted to tolerate the occasional cold winters of southwestern France. Similar disasters have happened with restoration efforts using other species in other places, when the seed sources weren’t well adapted.

Q: Why do you think that the Global Landscapes Forum is the perfect occasion to talk about genetic considerations in restoration?

A: For myself and my colleagues at Bioversity International, the Global Landscapes Forum is a unique opportunity to draw attention to our work. This year I would like to focus the attention of policymakers, NGOs and restoration practitioners to the vital importance of carefully matching the species and sources of planting material to the environmental conditions of the restoration site. When it comes to establishing new forests on a degraded site – and we need to keep on stressing this – there’s rarely a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Each situation needs to be carefully analyzed and planned for. You’ll learn more about this at the side-event, where I will explain why ignoring the quality of planting material can seriously jeopardize restoration projects, in both the short and the long term – and what to do to achieve success.

Q: Tell us about a research project that you're leading at Bioversity International?

A: We are currently working on a project to restore tropical dry forest in Colombia - the most seriously threatened ecosystem in the country. This project aims to provide restoration practitioners with all the information and guidelines they need to carry out the restoration of tropical dry forest in any location in the country. We’re hoping to put all of the information we collect into an interactive map-based tool that takes into account the anticipated effects of climate change, the distribution of genetic diversity in relict patches of tropical dry forests and the functional traits of the tree species.

More information on the Global Landscapes Forum: 
Find out how Bioversity International is participating at the Global Landscapes Form here and about the side-event: 'The role of genetic diversity, traditional knowledge and restoration of native plants in climate adaptation and resilience' which will take place on 6th December, 17:30. 
Follow #GLFCOP20 and #ThinkLandscape on Twitter for updates. The Global Landscapes Forum is happening in Peru, Lima from 6 to 7 December, 2014.