Ecosystem restoration: rebalancing the scales

Ecosystem - photo of Sudbury lake
  "eco-systems" by Gregory Gibson. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Are investments to remove the barriers that cause habitat fragmentation – one of the biggest drivers of decline in biodiversity and valuable ecosystem services, maximising their potential return?

We know that habitat fragmentation is one of the biggest drivers of decline in biodiversity and valuable ecosystem services. The migration of fish within rivers is particularly vulnerable to disruption by a combination of man-made dams and road crossings. Investments to remove these barriers are growing but are they maximising their potential return?

Dr Jesse O’Hanley and his co-authors find that restoring aquatic ecosystem connectivity in the Laurentian Great Lakes in North America is a staggering nine times more cost-effective if barrier removals are co-ordinated across the entire basin rather than optimised independently for each local watershed. Moreover, aggregating investments as a one-time pulse is as much as ten times more efficient than annual allocations of the same amount. Pooling investment raises the threshold for project cost-effectiveness and also means that high-cost yet high-return projects become affordable.


Neeson, T. M., Ferris, M. C., Diebel, M. W., Doran, P. J., O’Hanley, J. R., and McIntyre, P. B. 2015. Enhancing ecosystem restoration efficiency through spatial and temporal coordination. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(19), 6236-6241.

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