Ecological restoration is a necessary component to the conservation of biodiversity, and provision of ecosystem services in a changing world. Restoration provides a unique way to test ecological theories in an applied manner, because humans select the inputs to restored communities, and control ongoing management. Studying the relationship between restoration inputs and outputs – for example, between seed mixes and plant communities – can inform plant community ecology, and help managers design more effective restorations. However, the process of ecological restoration begins long before seeds are sown, in the minds of land managers and other stakeholders in the restoration process. In this project, I will follow the effects of seed mix design on restored plant communities from land managers’ decision making process, though plant emergence and establishment, and into realized restored plant communities.
This work combines social science research – surveying land managers, with seed biology laboratory work, and field work exploring emergence of seeded species in full scale restoration projects, and plot-level experimental communities to better understand the social-ecological landscape of ecological restoration. I will conduct this research in the tallgrass prairie, one of the most endangered habitats on earth, and a host to ongoing restoration research and practice. The overarching goal of this work is to understand the processes by which land manager thoughts become seed mixes, and seed mixes become restored prairies. Applications of this work include building partnerships between restoration researchers and practitioners to improve seed mix design for restoration. I am applying this research towards development of a restoration decision tool that uses machine learning to design restoration seed mixes that meet multiple biodiversity objectives.