||Ecosystem restoration begins by recognizing function and identifying the ecosystem properties that drive the process. These properties are the biotic and abiotic factors necessary for ecosystem function to occur. Completing basic research and identifying reference natural areas is a first step in identifying restoration goals. These goals identify restoration conservation targets (communities, rare species, etc.) so that objectives can be developed to prioritize actions or tasks. These objectives should be measurable through monitoring and have the flexibility to enable adaptive management actions. A site assessment of biotic factors identifies these restoration targets including the plant community types, rare species, and any critical keystone species for the site. An abiotic assessment identifies essential influences including the disturbance regimes, substrate, hydrologic features, and topography that support the biotic elements. These assessments provide the information to determine the richness or intactness of the ecosystem, threats, and restoration feasibility.
This approach is currently underway at May Prairie Designated State Natural Area in Coffee County, Tennessee. It is part of the large landscape scale barrens restoration initiative for the Southeastern Highland Rim of the Interior Low Plateau Physiographic Province. The May Prairie restoration effort has identified the oak barren community types of the oak barren grassland ecosystem and its 25 rare species as restoration conservation targets. The goal is to restore the associated community types for this ecosystem and protect its rare species. A remnant intact ecosystem on site is the reference area. Research has identified fire as an essential influence on ecosystem function. Site assessment has determined that hydrologic function has been disrupted, successional red maple forest and converted pastureland has displaced wet to mesic tallgrass barrens, and understory growth in the shrub layer has altered the oak barrens community structure. The restoration objectives are to restore hydrologic function by a series of corrective tasks including the removal of red maple, control of fescue in the pasture to release native vegetation, and reduction of the shrub layer in the oak barrens community. Monitoring is ongoing and management actions are adaptive. Fire has been reintroduced into the ecosystem. Restoration is long term in scope and will contribute to the barren restoration effort for this region.