The Ridgefield Multiple Ecosystem Services Experiment: restoring and sustaining function in degraded ecosystems

Key words: carbon sequestration, invasion resistance, nutrient cycling, novel ecosystems, intervention ecology

Mike Perring

Introduction. Multiple, simultaneous, and rapid environmental changes make sustaining and restoring ecosystem functions an increasingly important but challenging task. The Ridgefield Multiple Ecosystem Services Experiment, being undertaken at the University of Western Australia’s Future Farm in the Western Australian wheat belt, tests the application of current ideas in ecology to ecological restoration, and seeks insights into how management interventions can sustain and restore multiple ecosystem functions in an era of rapid environmental change.

Design. Our experiment tests how different woody plant species mixtures affect provision of ecosystem functions and services, including carbon storage, nutrient cycling, invasion resistance, biodiversity maintenance, and prevention of soil erosion. We also consider potential tradeoffs in the provision of ecosystem functions, how different plant species mixtures may respond to simultaneous environmental changes, and how different plant species assemblages may affect other trophic levels, both above and below ground.

Experimental treatments, across 124 23x11m rip line plots, comprise native tree and shrub species, and span a diversity gradient from bare and single-species to mixtures of eight species. Species belong to four different functional groups based on differing nutrient acquisition strategies and morphologies. Plant assemblage treatments are replicated across former grazing and cropped landscapes.

The Ridgefield experimental site with formerly cropped area to the right and grazed blocks in middle and left (December 2010)

In addition to the role of species composition in determining ecosystem functions and services, we will examine the effect of simultaneous environmental changes (nitrogen deposition and weed invasion) on our chosen functions and services, particularly since the presence of exotics creates potentially novel ecosystem states. Our experiment will allow us to understand more about how combinations of plant species, and their associated traits, can be utilized to intervene and manage ecosystems to ensure capacity for ongoing function and service provision in the Anthropocene. In terms of theory, we are also interested in whether the provision of multiple ecosystem functions requires greater biodiversity than provision of single services, if there are tradeoffs among services as diversity levels increase, and how the traits of included species affect functioning.

York gum only plot (January 2011)

Participants and potential for collaboration. Participants include: Mike Perring, Kris Hulvey, Rachel Standish, Lori Lach, Tim Morald, Rebecca Parsons and Richard Hobbs. The study provides a platform for the investigation of a wide variety of ecologically and socially important questions, and we encourage interested parties to contact us should they wish to collaborate or conduct trials at the site.

Contact: Mike Perring, School of Plant Biology, University of Western Australia; Tel: +61 (0)8 6488 4692; Email:

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