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Global environment leaders’ decision calls for attention to genetic diversity in ecosystem restoration

Restoration after gold mining, Colombia. Credit: Bioversity International/C. Alcazar Caicedo

Bioversity International successfully encourages consideration of quality in ecosystem restoration at the CBD COP12 held in Korea earlier this month.

It is estimated that 13 million hectares of natural forest are lost each year worldwide. Along with the impacts of climate change and desertification, this represents serious deterioration of the planet’s ecosystems, leading to ongoing loss of biodiversity.

In order to tackle the challenge posed by biodiversity loss, world leaders agreed in 2010 to work towards achieving Aichi Biodiversity Targets – global biodiversity conservation goals set by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). One in particular Aichi Target 15 sets the bold goal of restoring at least 15% of degraded ecosystems by 2020.

As the halfway point approaches there is urgency to meet this Target. Recently in PyeongChang, Korea at the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP12) global environment leaders called for attention to a previously ignored aspect of ecosystem restoration – genetic diversity of tree species planted.

As a result of the meetings, the parties have agreed on the PyeongChang Roadmap designed to enhance the implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity and achievement of the Aichi Targets. This roadmap will build on progress made on action points from the Hyderabad Call for a Concerted Effort on Ecosystem Restoration agreed on during COP11.

Aichi Target 15 – a ‘qualitative’ goal

The spirit of Aichi Target 15 will not be achieved if tree species and genetic diversity are not taken into consideration. Simply restoring forest cover does not necessarily ensure restoration of the function and resilience of the forest. 

Aichi Target 15 also emphasizes the need to enhance resilience of ecosystems and their contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation. These do not depend only on the extent of restored ecosystems but also on their diversity, including the diversity of tree species and their genetic diversity.

Genetic diversity provides the material for natural selection and its importance is only growing under progressive climate change. If trees are not able to adapt to the changing environment, they will also not be able to mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration in biomass growth or continue providing other ecosystem services.

Demand for the use of native tree species in restoration increasing globally

A study published in 2014 by Bioversity International and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) to accompany the first ever State of the World’s Forest Genetic Resources report stresses that preferential use of native species in ecosystem restoration contributes to the conservation of these species and their genetic diversity. 

Native tree species have evolved together with other native flora and fauna of a given area. They may also correspond better to the needs and preferences of local people, many of whom may have in-depth ethnobotanical knowledge of these species. For example, in Colombia, Bioversity International researchers and partners have been racing to save the prized abarco tree (Cariniana pyriformis) from extinction – a species identified by the International Tropical Timber Organization as valuable for the restoration of degraded forests in South America.

From capacity building to policy changes

Earlier this year, Bioversity International scientists took part in a series of regional capacity strengthening workshops leading to the 18th meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) of the CBD in Montreal, June 2014. They trained national CBD focal points in genetic considerations in restoration, based on the findings of the thematic study mentioned earlier.

Based on the recommendations from the regional workshops, the SBSTTA meeting recommended that COP12 adopt a decision that invites parties “to give due attention to both native species and genetic diversity in conservation and restoration activities, while avoiding the introduction and preventing the spread of invasive alien species.” That decision has now been adopted at the highest level, as the delegates at the CBD COP12 agreed on its importance.

Korea Forest Service launches new restoration initiative

In response to SBSTTA’s call, launched on 14 October, 2014, in the margins of COP12, the ‘Forest Ecosystem Restoration Initiative’ (FERI) aims to provide support to developing countries towards achieving Aichi Biodiversity Target 15, amongst others, by maximizing restoration efforts through knowledge sharing and implementation and technical support.

Decisions of both the SBSTTA and the Korea Forest Service (KFS) have been shaped by a successful collaboration with Bioversity International. With their feet firmly planted on the ground, Bioversity International’s forest genetic resources scientists have been teaching about the importance of genetic considerations in ecosystem restoration and influencing future restoration efforts. After discussions with Bioversity International, KFS has added an emphasis on diversity and resilience in FERI

Read more in the in session CBD document on Ecosystem Conservation and Restoration.

Bioversity International’s forest research contributes to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry:  Livelihoods, Landscapes and Governance, leading the theme on management and conservation of forest and tree resources.

This story is part of the 2014 Annual Report

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