Did I hear correctly? I am sitting in the local shire council offices participating in a coastcare coordinators meeting and we get onto the topic of future seminars. I think I almost chocked when it was explained to me that Professor Richard Hobbs (2011 WA Scientist of the Year) was presenting the idea that perhaps we should be planting species in our restoration projects that are more likely to cope with the rapid climate changes in the future (i.e. not local provenance species). This took me by surprise. It goes against all that I have been taught, which is basically that local provenance species should be used in restoration projects.
In mining, our Mine Closure Plans often refer to collecting, storing and using the seed of local provenance species for rehabilitating disturbed areas. If this new way of thinking is correct then we should be planning on rehabilitating post-mining areas with species that are better adapted to a warming climate? These post-mining landscapes may serve as islands of contingency (supporting species that are more likely to survive in the local area as the climate changes, and in areas where the local species are not expected to survive or be able to adapt quickly enough).
However, what are the risks? If we use the same species (but from locations considered not local), then cross-pollination of introduced plants with naturally occurring local provenance plants may result in any number of problems – weedy species, weaker populations, not to mention dramatic changes in community composition and structure.
Debate around the issue above is very healthy amongst the scientific community. It challenges the way scientists think about current best pratice in restoration given the rapid changes in climate. However, as a group consisting of practitioners, government and regulators, we are challenged as to which advice and direction to take. The question that comes to my mind is how much time do we have to debate such issues?