Identifying biodiversity-related success factors of ecological restoration projects

Overview

The project focuses on determining biodiversity-related success factors of ecological restoration projects in a biodiversity hotspot of Lebanon, Mount Lebanon.  It will consider the role of wildlife in ecological restoration processes, by studying what different animals disperse, in relation to different plant species over different time frames.  Diverse plants that can sustain wildlife year round will be identified to promote the sustainability of the restored ecosystem and its natural regeneration. Given its novel character in associating different concerned biodiversity partners, this study hopes to inspire subsequent reforestation actions in Lebanon and in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

Quick Facts

Project Location:
Mount Lebanon, Lebanon, 33.8100858, 35.59731390000002

Geographic Region:
Middle East

Country or Territory:
Lebanon

Ecosystem:
Montane Grasslands & Shrublands

Area being restored:
65 hectares (fenced) + reference site

Project Lead:
Saint Joseph University, Beyrouth

Organization Type:
University / Academic Institution

Project Partners:
CBD / FERI, Jouzour Loubnan (NGO and implementing partner)

Location

Project Stage:
Implementation

Start Date:
2017-05

End Date:
2019-07

Primary Causes of Degradation

Deforestation, Fragmentation

Degradation Description

Today Lebanon‘s natural resources are rapidly becoming depleted. Problems of land degradation and deforestation do not date from the last few decades, but began more than a century ago and are still continuing. It is a long historical process of cutting down trees and not allowing regeneration, over-exploitation of wood, fires, overgrazing etc. These highly unsustainable processes have finally led to a high degree of erosion and to a loss of productivity of the land.

Since the early sixties, Lebanon experienced many reforestation projects. But these efforts were hampered by the war which lasted for more than 30 years and would have had anyway limited impact. Recently, the Lebanese Government launched the 40 million trees programme, a national initiative steered by the Ministry of Agriculture to plant 40 million trees in public lands within the next 20 years. All the environmental NGOs are invited to work under this project umbrella.

Defining the Reference Ecosystem

The reference ecosystem is primarily based on contemporary reference sites or existing analogues of the pre-degradation ecosystem.

Reference Ecosystem Description

In order to identify biodiversity-related success factors of ecological restoration projects, particularly in kfardebian, a major step has to be taken as to have a solid and accurate restoration results. The identification of a reference site is one of the most essential measures to take into consideration in order to have a landscape reference and a natural succession stage example. The most adequate reference site ought to be diversified, home for a great number of plants and animals and where the natural succession stages occur.

Ehden natural reserve in Mont Lebanon fits all of the criteria mentioned above. In fact, Ehden is a relatively large reserve with a surface of 18 Km2 and an altitude range that extends between 1200m and up to 2000 m. It has the same abiotic characteristics as our restoration site. It is considered a home for:
– 1058 plant species with 39 different tree species
– 27 different animal species

This reference site will help us elucidate the animal-plant relationship; promote the reoccurrence of wildlife and the natural regeneration in the pilot site.

Project Goals

The project objective is as follows: to evaluate the effect of animal wildlife on the long-term sustainability of the restored forests. To this end, the Project will be relying on a unique opportunity to test in situ a set of parameters affecting plant and animal biodiversity interactions under three different situations. Two major components are identified: (i) Effect of fencing on sites biodiversity and ecological succession dynamics, and (ii) Role of animal wildlife in the self-sustainability of the restored forests.

Monitoring

Stakeholders

Implementing partner : Jouzour Loubnan (NGO)

How this project eliminated existing threats to the ecosystem:
Evaluate the effect of fencing on biodiversity from the restored site: The project relies on a unique opportunity to test in situ a set of parameters affecting plant and animal biodiversity interactions under three different situations. To this effect, we have a site of 65 ha globally fenced, another site adjacent to the first one where planted trees are fenced individually, and a reference site situated at the same altitude and developing under similar climatic conditions and protected since 1992: the Ehden Nature reserve. Having a reference area that is as near as possible to the natural conditions of the area to be restored is useful as benchmarks, for understanding ecological processes, and as sources of plants and animals to be used in assisted restoration.

How this project achieved a desirable species composition:
Selection of appropriate genetic resources to be used for reforestation: On one hand, it is crucial to work with material of confirmed origin: a DNA barcoding technique will be applied to barcode all the resources to be used in reforestation. The challenge of matching adapted populations to current and future environmental conditions is often complicated by the extent and the type of degradation and disturbance involved. Given the uncertainty of future climate predictions, the most prudent approach to preparing for climate change for most restoration efforts is to select as much as possible the genetic and species diversity available near the restoration site or in sites with similar (macro) environmental conditions, which should allow natural selection to take its course and move the restored population in the required direction.

How this project recovered ecosystem functionality (e.g. nutrient cycling, plant-animal interactions, normal stressors):
Evaluate the effect of animal wildlife on the long-term sustainability of the restored site: In the framework of this project only the animals dispersing the seeds are studied. In the framework of the ecological restoration approach, knowing what each animal species eats and through which animal species each plant species disperses its seed, is crucial to help managers decide what to plant if they want to attract and promote wildlife. In addition, it allows us to define which plant needs which animals to disperse its seeds and ensure the ecosystem sustainability. A suite of approaches has been used based on the identification of consumed species by characterization of animal DNA collected based on non-invasive sampling techniques.

How this project reestablished external exchanges with the surrounding landscape (e.g. migration, gene flow, hydrology):
Promote key results in roundtable discussions among different national focal points, and at relevant international meetings, showcasing results and exchanging insights for areas facing similar challenges.

Ecological Outcomes Achieved

Achieve a desirable species composition:
Observing the reference site for landscape restoration is helping us determine the ecological succession stages that we will try to imitate in Kfardebian. Pioneer species were identified and the different succession stages are highlighted. The different trees and shrub species present in Ehden nature reserve are identified and their life cycle documented. The fruit type is defined and its dispersion mode precised. A list of species light demanding and considered as pioneers is prepared. These species will be introduced in early restoration activities. Concerning the fencing effect on the flora of our forest restauration site, a flora assessment was conducted the first of every month in the 6 plots mentionned in the previous report. The flora survey contains the species found in each plot, their frequency and dominance. During the reporting period, we have covered the survey of the summer season 2017, autumn , fall and spring 2018. Plants observed are identified and checklists are being prepared for each plot. Statistical analysis will be performed at the end of the collection season and compared site by site and season by season. Results will be included in the next report.

Recover ecosystem functionality:
In order to unravel the herbivore regime of some animals present in our forest ecosystem, define their behavior as seed dispersers and thus their role in the sustainability of our forest, we undertook a non invasive sampling technique. The DNA included in the scats that animals leave behind will reveal animal diet and animal identity. To be able to compare the DNA sequences found in the scats to a reference database, we should construct first our own plant and animal database. Scat collection is a continuous procedure taking place every month in Ehden Nature reserve using the optimized protocol.

Socio-Economic & Community Outcomes Achieved

Long-Term Management

A plant monitoring plan will be prepared based on permanent plots inside the three sites A, B and C. Monitoring will be performed over a long period since forest ecosystems do evolve over time and cannot be fully understood in two years research timeframe.

A data base with animal traces (footprints, hair, feces, ..) will be developed allowing the future completion of the ecological web interactions by adding new species and by making a link between biological traces and genetic markers.

Finally, these inventories will be added to the other research components for the ecological restoration project in order to have a more comprehensive view from the soil microorganisms to the interactions between plants and between animal and plants.

Other initiatives: Results of this project will be used in the context of a FAO-FLRM project and by the 40 million trees initiative by the Ministry of Agriculture.

Sources and Amounts of Funding

FERI: 50,000 USD

Other Resources

https://www.feri-biodiversity.org/mountlebanon

Primary Contact

Name:
Prof. Magda BOU DAGHER

Affiliation:
Saint Joseph University, Faculty of Science, Laboratory of Seeds Germination and Conservation

City:
Beyrouth

Organizational Contact