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Science and Innovations

NAU Project Will Demonstrate Restoring Ecosystems for Future Climate

Thomas G. Whitham

Northern Arizona University’s Southwest Experimental Garden Array will test out the idea of “prestoration”—a kind of ecological restoration that anticipates the expected future climate.

The new research project will take place on 40 acres along the Little Colorado River, on land provided by Babbitt Ranches. Scientists will set up field trials to compare standard restoration practices with a new approach designed for a hotter climate in Arizona. 

Tom Whitham of the Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research leads the project. He says it’s impractical to restore degraded ecosystems with local plants that won’t survive climate change. “By identifying where plants are already adapted to these hotter, drier environments, and using that in our restoration, we should do better,” he says.  

That means relocating trees from lower elevations up to the Colorado Plateau. Natural genetic variation should help them adapt to the changing climate and withstand invasive species.

Whitham says the team is preparing the site for planting next spring. He hopes the project will become a model for “prestoration” in the Southwest.

The two-year, $100,000 grant was awarded by the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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