The outcomes of this work will be to restore and future-proof indigenous biological heritage by overcoming negative resistance and resilience in degraded ecosystems. These degraded systems hold high social, economic and cultural values yet are often seen as too difficult to restore using existing monitoring and management frameworks.
The good news is that an enormous public effort is going into the restoration of our degraded waterways. The bad news is that there is some resistance to restoration – not from people, but the waterways themselves. Degraded waterways seem to become dominated by species that preserve the status quo. This resistant state to an unhealthy status is disheartening and needs to be overcome to ensure that our efforts are fully rewarded.
Ecosystems are complicated things. The University of Canterbury Freshwater Ecology Research Group, with help from NIWA, will conduct research that draws on a substantial amount of data about food webs, and in particular key characteristics about individual insects and fish such as when or how they feed or reproduce (called functional traits) to figure out what needs to be present to move streams to a healthy state. For example, there is a tiny snail that covers some stream bottoms and overwhelms other species in agricultural waterways. This expert team will look at various combinations of other species and their functional traits, to see what community of individuals work best together, and whether they/ these designer communities can overcome this unhealthy resilience.
Thus, don’t lose heart, valiant water restoration heros. Planting and fencing riparian zones is still a great thing to do, but we need to accept that life is complicated, and that there are some things we need to fix underwater as well and this is a multi-generation job. Fortunately, the best science help is on its way.