In addition to the more conspicuous defects in the composition of restored communities, there are numerous features, such as soil structure and chemistry, composition of soil flora, populations of less conspicuous animals (including insects), and various aspects of ecosystem function, that in many instances may not be authentic. Only rarely have these been studied in any detail.

On the positive side, however, the Arboretum’s restored communities have brought back into the landscape numerous plants and animals that had become rare or had even been eliminated locally. The entire project certainly represents an enormous contribution to what might be called the native diversity of the Madison area. The Arboretum’s restored tallgrass prairies, for example, are now among the largest prairies in Wisconsin, a state that had some 4.8 million hectares of prairie and savanna at the time of European settlement (Curtis, 1959). These prairies alone include more than 300 species of native plants. Some of them, including plants such as big bluestem grass (Andropogon gerardi), compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), and yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), were extremely abundant in presettlement times, often dominating whole landscapes, but were virtually eliminated from the area by the time the restoration efforts at the Arboretum began. These now flourish in the restored communities, which also provide habitat for numerous rare species. Examples from the Arboretum’s collection include such rarities as the white-fringed orchid (Habenaria leucophaea), prairie parsley (Polytaenia nuttallii), smooth phlox (Phlox glaberrima), and wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium)—all considered threatened or endangered, at least for the state. In general, the Arboretum itself probably has more biological diversity than any other area of comparable size in the state. This is due largely to the presence of the various restored communities.

In short, the Arboretum’s experience shows that restoration of some native communities may be technically feasible under certain conditions. The ecological quality of the resulting communities may vary, but under proper conditions, it may actually be quite high, and restored communities may often resemble the historic community chosen as a model quite closely, at least in floristic composition.

SOCIAL, ECONOMIC FACTORS

At the same time, the experience of the Arboretum raises a number of questions about the cost of such projects and the social, political, and economic feasibility of carrying them out. Thus, in considering the environmental significance of the Arboretum’s restoration efforts, one should keep in mind that these efforts have been carried out under conditions that clearly limit their relevance to other situations. These conditions include first of all the fact that the Arboretum itself is part of a major university and that its work has been performed primarily for scientific and academic reasons. In other words, from the very beginning, this effort has benefited from its academic setting and has been justified as an experiment or as a way of creating communities for research, rather than as a way of coping with environmental, much less economic, problems.

The second set of conditions that have contributed to the success of the Arboretum project were those directly related to the economic and ecological con-



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement