Restoring biodiversity in Canada

A field where restoration is in progress.
A field where restoration is in progress.
Environment

As the world commemorates Earth Day 2024, a Waterloo researcher shares how we can unlock more Canadian restoration solutions with community and academic collaboration

With the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration well underway, one message is taking center stage - we need to restore biodiversity on our planet.

A new study, led by researchers in the Faculty of Environment, has uncovered details on Canada’s ecological restoration practices. By synthesizing insights from 50 years of Canadian academic research, they identified which ecosystems are being studied, and where.

Canada is an established global leader in ecological restoration, having developed the first national principles and guidelines for ecological restoration and the first international guidance for the World Commission on Protected Areas. However, much restoration happens in silos and little is known about the collective ecological restoration practices across Canada.

As they analyzed the data, the research team found that the field is tightly tied with restoration solutions to degradation from resource extraction in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia while other parts of the country, like Northwest Territories, are overlooked by the literature. Additionally, forests and peatlands receive a lot of attention while marine, costal, river and tundra ecosystems are less studied.

The researchers believe that greater collaboration between academia and practitioners is necessary to unlock key insights into the geographic and ecosystem gaps they identified and will also help develop a holistic picture of restoration practices in the country.

"We believe reports and data by community groups, Indigenous peoples, nonprofits and governments represents the majority of restoration data whereas academic work represents a small piece of what’s actually available," says Tim Alamenciak, PhD graduate in the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability. "The issue is that community information is not easy to find."

To bridge these gaps, the researchers have applied for funding to collect and analyze the wealth of information housed outside of academia. The goal is to synthesize the findings, promote their implementation and build ways for scientists and community to work closely together.

"Restoration is urgently needed to be conducted at greater scales to address escalating global ecosystem degradation and meet the ambitious mission of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration," Alamenciak says. "It’s only through working together that we can meet the great challenges and ambitious goals we’ve set."

As the global community marks Earth Day 2024, people around the world will celebrate our natural world and commit to climate action. At the University of Waterloo, protecting biodiversity is a cornerstone of our sustainability strategy and the University is dedicated to advancing research for global impact that will strengthen sustainable and diverse communities.

Looking to the future, Alamenciak believes there are opportunities to advance this work through developing a research agenda for holistic restoration monitoring, evaluating the effectiveness of restoration prompted by Canadian policy and legislation, and committing to long-term monitoring and evaluation of ecological restoration projects.

"We know that there is lots of incredible restoration work happening across the country. By connecting practices and insights from Indigenous nations, local groups and researchers, we will transform the practice of ecological restoration and support effective ecosystem recovery for generations to come," Alamenciak says.

The study, Ecological restoration research in Canada: who, what, where, when, why, and how , emerged from a Tri-Council Knowledge Synthesis research project with researchers from the University of Victoria, Carleton University and Université Laval, and was published in Facets Journal.

Photo of a Garry Oak Meadow restoration in Summit Park, Saanich, B.C. Credit: Nancy Shackelford
Chantal Vallis