Using genomics to restore degraded ecosystems

The monumental global task of restoring degraded ecosystems will need to include sophisticated technologies such as environmental DNA monitoring to understand and support the recovery of complex biospheres, say international researchers.

Genomics provides important ‘weapons’ in the fight to repair ecosystems – from authenticating seed sources to improving the detection of weeds or invasive animals, says lead researcher Dr Martin Breed of the ‘Flinders University.

Australian and US researchers have compiled a roadmap for restoration ecologists to better use genomics to help address critical aspects of reviving degraded ecosystems.

Genomics offers vital support for reversing ecosystem decline, but it is often a missing tool in the toolbox of restoration ecologists,” the researchers note in a new paper from Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

This can help improve seed supply practices for revegetation under climate change.

Genomics can tell us where we should get our seeds from, which will have a better chance of surviving the impacts of climate change like more frequent and intense heat waves.

Plus, genomics is really the only way to track the return of soil microbes that support the rest of life on earth – plants and animals.

Additionally, genomics can be used to determine if threatened or undesirable species like invasive plants and animals return after restoration efforts.”

Dr. Martin Breed, Flinders University

Greater adoption of genomics has clear potential to enhance the immense task ahead – especially in light of the declaration of the United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration which supports the Bonn Challenge to restore 350 million hectares of degraded ecosystems by 2030.

Restoration ecologists’ roadmap for adding genomics to their toolbox includes the need for improved communication in the restoration and genomics sector. The strategy calls for:

THE SINK communication between the different catering specialties,

ADOPTION genomics in the sector beyond the first users thanks to a better knowledge of genomics in the restaurant sector,

TO IMPROVE access to complementary skills required for genomics, such as bioinformatics and computer science, and

ENCOURAGEMENT interdisciplinary collaborations.

Securing funding for research and development of ancillary elements such as bioinformatics and computing infrastructure will support this innovative approach to ecosystem restoration.


Journal reference:

Mohr, JJ, et al. (2022) Does the ‘cart’ of genomics precede the ‘horse’ of restoration ecology? Insights from qualitative interviews and trends in the literature. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences.