Ecosystem restoration is the act of enhancing the structure, function, and dynamic processes of ecosystems that have been degraded. As a researcher with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Environmental Laboratory, I have had the opportunity to work on a number of projects related to ecosystem restoration modeling and decision making. These projects range from basic science to decision making guidance to site-specific project planning. Most of these projects were funded through the Corps' Environmental Benefits Analysis and Ecosystem Management and Restoration research programs.
Ecosystem Restoration Decision Making: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers annually spends more than $500M on ecosytem restoration project planning and construction. Two primary questions involved in the restoration process are: (1) Which restoration action / alternative is the best? and (2) Are the benefits worth the investment? The Environmental Benefits Analysis research program is trying to help Corps practitioners answer these questions. I have worked on a number of topics through this research program, including:
McKay et al. 2010).
Coastal Ecosystem Restoration and Modeling: Globally, coastal ecosystems are under threat from sea level rise, local compaction and subsidence, and land use development pressure. Restoration of these systems is critical for maintaining their economic (e.g., shellfishery) and ecological (e.g., resting habitat for migratory birds) value. I have been involved in three projects related to understanding the future of these valuable ecosystems.
Developing a Conceptual Model of Appalachian Piedmont Streams: Ecosystem restoration projects in a given region often have similar drivers, stressors, state conditions, ecosystem services, and (most importantly) objectives. Regional approaches to environmental benefits analysis can streamline project development by providing consistent understanding, metrics, and models. This study proposed a framework for developing regionally-applicable environmental benefits models and demonstrated application of this framework in Appalachian Piedmont streams.
Prioritizing Fish Passage Improvement: The Corps of Engineers is planning a watershed-wide fish passage improvement project along the mainstem of the Truckee River, Nevada. A range of fish passage improvement options (e.g., fish ladders, bypasses, dam removal) were proposed for 17 sites along 120 river miles. Working with the local resource agencies, we developed an algorithm to determine the most cost-effective combination of restoration actions at the watershed scale. The algorithm accounted for dependencies between actions at multiple sites (e.g., If fish do not pass a downstream barrier, improvement of an upstream barrier may be irrelevant).
Analytical Methods for Stream Restoration: Our team is also in the process of developing guidance for how hydraulic, hydrologic, and flow duration analyses can be used in stream restoration project design.