New project will broaden our understanding of environmental restoration

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Researchers at the University of Stirling are lending their expertise to a new project aimed at broadening our understanding of the benefits of environmental restoration.

Human actions are continuously degrading natural landscapes and there is growing evidence this is linked to the risk of zoonotic spillover, resulting in the appearance of infectious diseases.

RESTOREID (Restoring Ecosystems to Stop the Threat of (Re-) Emerging Infectious Diseases) aims to provide a better understanding of the environmental restoration mechanisms to achieve better restoration strategies in the future.

A new 16-partner European-funded research programme will not only investigate how restoration may impact disease spillover risk, but also enable local communities to take part in restoration and set their own restoration priorities.

The work will lead to clearer policies and guidelines for restoration which can be followed in any temperate or tropical landscape.

Innovative technology

Five academics in the University of Stirling’s Faculty of Natural Sciences will partner in the project, including Dr Brad Duthie, a Lecturer in Environmental Modelling in the division of Biological and Environmental Sciences.

He will use innovative technology to develop new monitoring tools that communities can use to assess the biodiversity of their environments.

Dr Duthie said: “Part of this work will focus on engaging stakeholders using an online game which will simulate the decision-making involved in landscape restoration under different restoration scenarios.

“Gameplay will be underpinned by realistic models of ecological and environmental processes, and player decision-making will be recorded to collect data and learn about how people prioritise different decisions in restoration.

“This work will educate game players on restoration while also giving us a better understanding of how social and economic factors might drive the restoration process.
“We will also be surveying the biodiversity in restored sites and investigating disease prevalence.”

Improve landscapes

Dr Lucinda Kirkpatrick, Lecturer in Wildlife Ecology at Bangor University, was instrumental in developing the research project while at the University of Antwerp.
She said: “We need to be working to improve our landscapes and restore degraded areas, as these often provide important community resources, but we also need to understand what negative effects might happen as a result of restoration and be able to provide the tools and guidelines so that people can avoid any inadvertent negative effects, such as increased incidence of rats or Lyme’s Disease.” 

Professor Herwig Leirs, Head of the Evolutionary Ecology Group at the University of Antwerp, said: “In degraded ecosystems, certain species that carry infectious pathogens can proliferate, and this can have serious consequences for human wellbeing.

“While biodiversity restoration is hailed as a remedy for this, the introduction of new species via ecosystem restoration could unwittingly usher in fresh health risks. To ensure that restoration processes result in healthier landscapes, an understanding of these intricate processes is paramount. That is what we aim to do with RESTOREID.”

RESTOREID (Restoring Ecosystems to Stop the Threat of (Re-) Emerging Infectious Diseases) is a four-year project funded by Horizon Europe.

In addition to the University of Stirling, the RESTOREID partners are Universiteit Antwerpen (Belgium), Bangor University (UK), Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (France), AVIA-GIS NV (Belgium), Europa Media Nonprofit (Hungary), Europa Media Norge (Norway), Helsingin Yliopisto (Finland), Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung (Germany), Universidade Nova de Lisboa (Portugal), Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet (Sweden), Sokoine University of Agriculture (Tanzania), Université de Kisangani (Democratic Republic of the Congo), University of Glasgow (UK), Prins Leopold Instituut voor Tropische Geneeskun (Belgium), ALTERNET The European Science Policy Interface on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (Belgium), Médecins du Monde- Dokters van de Wereld (Belgium). 

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