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Assessing, with limited resources, the ecological outcomes of wetland restoration: a South African case

Kotze, Donovan C., Tererai, Farai, Grundling, Piet‐Louis
Restoration ecology 2019 v.27 no.3 pp. 495-503
cost effectiveness, ecological restoration, ecosystem services, geomorphology, hydrology, land use, landscapes, vegetation, wetlands, South Africa
Resources for evaluating the ecological outcomes of ecosystem restoration projects are often limited, especially within government‐funded programs. In order to rapidly assess the ecological outcomes of wetland restoration, an improved approach has been developed, which was applied in the assessment of the ecological outcomes at nine restoration sites of South Africa's Working for Wetlands program. The sites encompass a diversity of restoration problems and land use contexts. The approach begins by distinguishing hydrogeomorphic (HGM) units, for which ecological condition is assessed and reported for hydrology, geomorphology, and vegetation pre‐ and post‐restoration. These three components are closely linked but, as demonstrated at some of the sites, may respond differentially to restoration interventions. For most HGM units, overall ecological condition was improved by between 10 and 30%, with the greatest contribution of restoration generally being to the hydrology component. Having determined the integrity and costs of the interventions, cost‐effectiveness is then reported in South African Rands per hectare equivalent restored, which was found to vary by more than an order of magnitude across the HGM units assessed. Cost‐effectiveness must be interpreted in the light of the long‐term integrity of the interventions, the site's landscape context, and the contribution of restoration to ecosystem services provision. Some sites may be considerably less cost‐effective than others, but the cost may nonetheless be justified if the sites make key contributions to ecosystem services provision. The study was conducted in the context of a formative evaluation and the findings are envisaged to improve wetland restoration practice.