RestoreNet: Distributed Field Trial Network for Dryland Restoration

Science Center Objects

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) researchers and land managers are co-producing a network of restoration field trial sites on DOI and surrounding lands in the southwestern U.S. The network systematically tests restoration treatments across a broad range of landscape, soil, and climate conditions. Each site in the network is used to test suitable seed mixes and treatments that promote plant establishment and growth. The treatments include ground modifications (e.g. soil amendments, physical alterations, mulching), seeding vs. outplanting seedlings from a greenhouse, timing of planting, and herbicide treatments to suppress invasive species.

*Find out what happened on the Colorado Plateau after the first year of RestoreNet here!

This is a map of the Southwest US with RestoreNet sites in six ecoregions.

RestoreNet is a networked ecological experiment on the cutting-edge of restoration science. Restoration is the activity of improving the land based on any number of objectives, and often includes seeding or outplanting to improve habitat and soil conditions. Restoration in the arid southwest is challenging due to limited precipitation, wind, difficult soils, and herbivory to name a few. Understanding how simple tools used by land managers can act to increase germination and persistence of plants is important to reduce costs of treatments and reduce environmental hazards posed by degraded landscapes. Find out more about how the RAMPS (Restoration Assessment and Monitoring Program for the Southwest) supports land managers in the iconic landscapes of the American Southwest.

RestoreNet Benefits Land Managers:

  1. Co-production of science where managers are involved from day 1 and get space and support for site specific questions.
  2. Demonstration sites for knowledge sharing and clear proof of concept.
  3. Low-risk small test plots to later support larger projects.

RestoreNet Improves Restoration Outcomes:

  1. Improving seed mixes: providing insight on priority species for restoration based on the relative performances of species in different environmental conditions. 
  2. Advancing the science of dryland ecology and restoration.
  3. Demonstrating alternative restoration actions.
  4. Defining how restoration feeds into ecosystem function
An infographic showing treatments used in the RestoreNet project: mulch, pitting, and above-ground structures

Experimental Design and Monitoring (See figure below)
SPECIES: The experiment tests native grass, forb, and shrub species found within the garden’s ecoregion. There are two seed mixes, one adapted to hot/dry (red boxes) and one to cool/wet (blue boxes) conditions. 
SEEDED PLOTS (top four rows): Seeds are broadcast with treatments to increase soil moisture (see green box on front of flyer). 
OUTPLANTING (rows 5-8): Seedlings are planted from the greenhouse using the same species combinations above. There are single species (green boxes) and multiple species plots (multi-colored boxes). Black boxes show control plots.
LOCAL QUESTIONS (boxes with ‘?’): Each garden contains space for land managers to rigorously test locally-relevant restoration questions.
FUTURE EXPERIMENTS (bottom): Each garden contains space for future iterations of experiments that test restoration techniques on a small scale.
MONITORING: tracks plant establishment, growth, and survival, and effects on ecosystem properties (soil stability, nutrient availability, etc.). 

Infographic showing RestoreNet experimental design

Benefits of a Networked Experiment

A restoration field trial site on red soils, adjacent to buttes.

It has been estimated that over 90% of seeding attempts globally fail, and we are working to improve that statistic. A networked experiment allows for inferences to areas where experiments weren't conducted, so that the effort can support mangement decisions across the Southwest.

(Credit: Katie Laushman, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)

The RestoreNet field trial network is integrating knowledge of plant responses to the environment with their effects on recovery of ecosystem services, allowing us to scale-up understanding of seed and native plant performance to restoration treatments. Conducting experiments at this intermediate scale provides a low-risk, high-reward setting for land managers to evaluate different seed sources and restoration treatments across a broad range of environmental conditions. We are developing a network of field trial experiments across the Colorado Plateau, Sonoran, Chihuahuan, and Mojave Deserts. RestoreNet is providing novel insights into potential modifications or additions to priority species lists for restoration based on anticipated changes in climate, the performance of different seed resources and restoration treatments across environmental conditions, and how the interactive effects of site conditions and species composition influence ecosystem services. RestoreNet is fulfilling dual-purpose research and management support goals, allowing both advances in restoration science and demonstrations for land managers to see on-the-ground variation in seeding success, restoration treatments, and resultant ecosystem services. Easily accessible demonstration sites are critical for buy-in from land managers and practitioners who may be wary of modifying or adopting new practices without clear proof of concept.

The Restoration Assessment and Monitoring Program for the Southwest (RAMPS) is providing coordination for network development and synthesis among collaborators, as well as organizing field trips and outreach activities to facilitate the transition from research to application.



A group of field workers installs an experimental garden.

The USGS RAMPS program's RestoreNet experiment works to strengthen land treatment, restoration, and reclamation activity across the Southwestern Deserts. Here, UGSS scientists and Northern Arizona University students install a garden on the Colorado Plateau in Arizona. The RestoreNet project is an example of co-produced science, where land managers and scientists work together to design the experiment,  interpret results, and create science delivery products that are useful for land managers working to improve the condition of the land.

(Credit: Katie Laushman, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)