Figure 3

Increasing ecological complexity in restoration practice, and ecological engineering and design

We are developing tools where we apply the results of our empirical research to improve the practice of ecosystem restoration and ecological engineering and design. For example, if we understand what network structures are making the ecosystem less vulnerable to further change and more functional, we can replicate or engineer those structures. We are exploring this approach using the interactions between plant communities and soil microbial communities (fungi and bacteria). One approach we are developing is to engineer restoration pods as restoration units that are responsive to environmental change to release those network structures and start ecosystem development (Figure 2). Another approach is to introduce network modules in the restored or engineered landscape that include species with functional traits required to promote recovery.

We are also developing urban planning tools to facilitate the presence and spread of soil fungal communities under urban infrastructure. This would allow increasing tree connectivity which could potential enhance the acquisition of nutrients resulting in an increased health of urban ecosystems (Figure 3).

Figure 3

Figure 3. Urban planning for fungi. Underground tree connectivity facilitated by adapted infrastructure.
Modified from: Trees and Design Action Group, 2014. Trees in a Hard Landscape Image credits: The Integration and Application Network, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (

Once we understand what functions in the genomes are key to increase the resilience of species used in restoration and ecological engineering and design, we could select unusually resilient populations where those regions are expressed. Propagules from those populations with strong evolutionary potential could then be used in restoration and ecological engineering and design projects.