Articles | Volume 21, issue 7
BG Letters
 | Highlight paper
04 Apr 2024
BG Letters | Highlight paper |  | 04 Apr 2024

Rates of palaeoecological change can inform ecosystem restoration

Walter Finsinger, Christian Bigler, Christoph Schwörer, and Willy Tinner


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Ecosystems are, in many ways, changing more rapidly than they have in the past. Rapid past ecological changes can provide critical insight into how to best understand ecosystem function to improve ecological restoration, but a historic focus on community composition in the paleoecological literature can obscure the causes of these changes, making mechanisms unclear. The authors demonstrate a path forward using pollen and diatom records from a lake in the Italian Alps to construct a narrative of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem changes that combines well-established vegetation changes with rapid changes to water management changes to explore how rapidly the ecosystem responds to perturbations, and how aquatic function has been restored after pollution events. Doing so provides new insight into how to use the paleoecological record to understand restoration success and the time scales upon which ecosystem changes occur.
Short summary
Rate-of-change records based on compositional data are ambiguous as they may rise irrespective of the underlying trajectory of ecosystems. We emphasize the importance of characterizing both the direction and the rate of palaeoecological changes in terms of key features of ecosystems rather than solely on community composition. Past accelerations of community transformation may document the potential of ecosystems to rapidly recover important ecological attributes and functions.
Final-revised paper