How can we effectively restore habitats altered by human activities?
As the footprint of human activity occupies an ever-larger larger portion of the planet’s surface, there is an ever-greater need for effective tools to restore degraded habitats (Corbin 2013, 2014). I have tested strategies to restore native biodiversity in habitats that have been invaded by non-native species and also altered by intense human activities. My work mixes ecological theory with experimental tests to arrive at novel techniques that provide specific tools for restoration practitioners.
My collaborators and I have tested the effectiveness of control efforts directed at common reed (Phragmites australis) in Hudson River marshes (Zimmerman et al 2018 ), garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) in the Adirondack Park (Corbin et al 2017), and black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) in the Albany Pine Bush (Corbin et al., in preparation). By testing specific restoration strategies, we help ensure that scarce conservation dollars are applied in the most effective way possible. Unfortunately, in the case of garlic mustard, we demonstrated that the effort was not worth the cost: despite over five years of work to control the weed, garlic mustard continued to grow and spread. Our retrospective assessment of the feasibility of the project showed that it should never have been undertaken because the control method was unlikely to result in a reduction in the population. This experience led to a novel tool for habitat managers to assess the costs and feasibility of invasive species control before a project begins to ensure that scarce resources are only spent on realistic projects (Corbi et al 2017).
I have also applied ecological theory to efforts to restore trees in highly degraded and deforested habitats. “Applied nucleation” is a strategy in which tree saplings are planted in clusters, an arrangement that allows natural succession processes to speed recovery. My review of applied nucleation concluded that it can be a more effective strategy than alternatives like plantation plantings or relying on “passive” recovery (Corbin and Holl 2012). I also demonstrated the technique’s effectiveness in restoring an essentially treeless landfill in New Jersey into a densely wooded forest: tree establishment occurred at a faster rate than predicted by regional patterns of recovery without cluster plantings (Corbin et al 2016).
Zimmerman, C.L., R. Shirer, and J.D. Corbin. 2018. Native Plant recovery following three years of common reed (Phragmites australis) control. Invasive Plant Science and Management. [PDF]
Corbin, J.D., M. Wolford, C.L. Zimmerman, and B. Quirion. 2017. Applying decision support tools to weed management: A retrospective analysis of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) control. Restoration Ecology 25: S170-S177. [PDF]
Corbin, J.D., G. R. Robinson, L.M. Hafkemeyer, and S.N. Handel. 2016. A long-term evaluation of applied nucleation as a strategy to facilitate forest restoration. Ecological Applications 26:104:114. [PDF]
Corbin, J.D. and K. Holl. 2012. Applied nucleation as a forest restoration strategy. Forest Ecology and Management 265: 37-46. [PDF]
Corbin, J.D. and C.M. D’Antonio. 2012. Gone but not forgotten?: Invasive plants’ legacies on community and ecosystem properties. Invasive Plant Science and Management 5:117-124. [PDF]
Corbin, J.D. and C.M. D’Antonio. 2004. Can carbon addition increase the competitiveness of native grasses: A case study from California. Restoration Ecology 12:36-43. [PDF]