Regenerating naturally

Shrubs and trees colonize a bare hillside

In many parts of the world, ecosystems are regenerating naturally, without human help, after human disturbances have been removed. Those who like this sort of thing call it by many different names: natural regeneration, passive restoration or old-field succession. Those who don’t like it use a different set of labels: woody weeds, invasive scrub, even – believe it or not – ‘desertification’.

But what good are these new, colonizing ecosystems? Do they support diverse suites of native plants and animals, or just widespread weeds? Do they add to our conservation efforts or just complicate them? Can we manage regenerating areas in practical ways to improve their value for biodiversity conservation?

This is becoming an important issue in eastern Australia. Many areas, which have traditionally been managed for agriculture, are changing to other land-uses, such as rural residential land-use or hobby farms, to form post-agricultural or amenity landscapes, as they are sometimes known. Large areas of central Victoria are undergoing this type of land-use change.

Regenerating eucalypts

As agriculture declines, native trees and shrubs may begin to regenerate, and provide habitat for native birds and animals. Unfortunately, we have very little information about what species or ecological functions this regrowth supports. Which species are winners, which are the losers?

Equally as important, we don’t know much about how different people value passive regeneration. Do we like it less if we think it’s not natural? Would we value it more if we planted it ourselves?

To address some of these important questions, we’ve developed a new research program to ask the question: how do regenerating ecosystems and people interact in post-agricultural landscapes? The blogs on the Projects / Regrow page describe our work on this fascinating and important topic. We hope you like them.

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