Duke Restore is a Duke university initiative, based in the Nicholas School of the Environment, focused on advancing the field of ecosystem restoration to enhance resilience of natural and human systems.
Strategic approaches that integrate the functions and behaviors of both engineered and natural systems are needed to protect and facilitate recovery of valuable infrastructure and ecosystems in the face of intense global change. This need is especially urgent in coastal areas, where >40% of the human population resides and 90% of international trade activity occurs, and where extreme storms, drought, sea level rise, pollution, and environmental degradation pervasively threaten natural and human communities.
Restoring ecosystems is now being championed as a scalable strategy to increase resilience of both natural and human systems. In the words of E. O. Wilson in his book The Diversity of Life “The next century will, I believe, be the era of restoration in ecology”.
For example, restored coastal ecosystems provide carbon storage (both blue and brown carbon), prevent inland saltwater intrusions that destroy agriculture and forestry, enhance the biodiversity on the landscape, and prevent destruction of coastal fisheries and urban areas, thus increasing coastal landscape resilience.
However, for restoration to answer society’s challenge, it must evolve quickly and follow in the footsteps of the great human endeavors of agriculture, silviculture and aquaculture. Efficiency and yields must steeply escalate. The intellectual spectrum of participants must be expanded (e.g. to genetic engineers, microbiologists, machinists, horticulturalists, economists) and the objectives of cultivating ecosystems be inclusive of differing political, social and cultural needs.
Our vision is for the Duke Nicholas School of the Environment to become a global leader in ecosystem restoration and cultivation so that this conservation intervention can become a realistic recovery strategy for all ecosystems (terrestrial to marine) and economies in the face of intensifying global stress.
Duke Restore will first focus on North Carolina (from upper watershed streams to riverine wetlands and barrier island oyster reefs) as a model system and work with state and federal agencies to bring this to fruition. For example, agencies such as the US Marines and US Army Corps of Engineers are addressing this issue and have established an Engineering With Nature® (EWN) initiative whose purpose is to align natural and engineered processes to efficiently and sustainably deliver economic, social and environmental benefits from restoration through collaboration.
However, the long-term generation of these benefits is uncertain because EWN features are highly interconnected to both upstream and downstream engineered and natural systems and must therefore be designed and maintained not as isolated features – as has historically been the focus of conventional engineering – but rather as integrated components of landscapes.
The scientific capacity to accurately predict restoration project performance in EWN and other government agencies in this context does not yet exist, stifling widespread implementation of EWN solutions. We envision that faculty in NSOE through the Duke Restore initiative will provide the research and expertise to address this void by promoting better understanding of integrated ecosystem restoration and thus play a key role in enhancing human and natural resilience.