Restoring native plants: Contrasting agricultural and ecological perspectives
Native plant materials are critical for ecological restoration and large quantities of native seed are required in nearly all restoration programs. However, restoration practices in North America are strongly influenced by agricultural production through cultivation of native plant species, as well as mechanical site preparation and seeding. This approach raises the question of whether ecological and agricultural principles can be reconciled in restoration of native plants and, ultimately, ecosystem structure and function.
The benefits and drawbacks of both an agricultural and ecological approach to restoration will be discussed in light of ongoing work to compare and contrast cultivated and wild seed sources, the importance of intraspecific variation for population sustainability, and the long-term consequences of mass seeding of non-local genotypes in revegetation of degraded ecosystems. Practices that conserve biodiversity from genes to communities are most likely to meet restoration goals for self-sustaining ecosystems. Cultivation is a necessary step to meet those goals, but shifts in the paradigm of plant breeding in restoration practice would better conserve genetic variation and species-level diversity.