Thesis: Testing ecological theory and informing restoration practice using temporal patterns in the floristics and functional traits of kwongan vegetation restored after mining
Thesis summary (max. 150 words) The description of temporal vegetation patterns from a functional trait rather than a floristic viewpoint, may offer greater insight in understanding ecological function in the restoration of land after mining. The restoration monitoring data sets for two mining areas in species-rich Mediterranean-type shrublands of southwest Western Australia, comprising of floristic data for areas subject to different restoration practices and fire regimes, are the basis of the research. Comparisons will be made between floristic and functional trait patterns derived from these datasets as well as to post disturbance recovery patterns from literature. The collection of plant functional traits for species within the databases will also contribute towards the creation of the first comprehensive functional trait database in Western Australia.
The temporal patterns described will be used to test a number of ecological theories deemed relevant to restoration. Current restoration targets for post-mining vegetation will be assessed in light of the description of patterns, testing of ecological theories, and a critical review of literature on restoration targets. A novel predictive model for restoration based on plant functional traits will also be tested, both to inform future restoration inputs and inform remediation of established restoration.
Why my research is important
In Australia, native vegetation clearing in the decade to 2010 averaged 1 million hectares per year, with 62% of remaining native vegetation subject to varying degrees of disturbance.
Despite progress in restoration practices in southwest Western Australia, restoration, particularly after the complete removal of vegetation, remains challenging. Ecological theory must better inform restoration practice and targets so as to maximize time and resources dedicated towards it as well as ensure its success.
The establishment of restoration ecology as a discipline in more recent years, recognises the synthesis required between ecological theory and restoration practice. Restoration ecology is defined as the study of how a community assembles after a disturbance via a successional trajectory and how this assembly can be directed towards a desired target community in as short a time as possible given local environmental filters and species pools and interactions. Restoration is therefore also a valuable opportunity to contribute to ecological theory, both for a localised system and in terms of general theory.