Taking ROOT: the launch of a new restoration tool

With the launch of the Restoration Opportunities Optimisation Tool (ROOT), the world has a better way of making decisions on ecosystem services, specifically in support of the people who actually rely on them. 

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/JpauloP

Following over three years of development through a partnership between International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and The Natural Capital Project, ROOT is a software tool that optimises trade-offs among different ecosystem services to help decision-makers visualise where investments in restoration could be made that would optimise benefits for multiple landscape goals.

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Technically, ROOT applies an integrated linear programming algorithm which optimises and displays the location of the expected ecosystem services generated through restoration. Most notably, it does so for multiple ecosystem services at the same time and can weigh these optimisations based on the location of people who rely on such services. This includes optimising landscape restoration interventions in areas that would generate clean water, or avoiding areas where disadvantaged people might be negatively affected by changes or modifications in land use. The result is knowledge that is not purely biophysical, but instead blends the social priorities of those with the rights to manage land with the ecosystem service benefits that are expected from restoration.

Craig Beatty, a partner in the development of ROOT from IUCN explains, “ROOT will change the game of ecosystem service analysis. It really allows those working on the technical components of ecosystem services modelling to clearly articulate to decision-makers where they can minimise trade-offs in landscape management decisions and, more importantly, how decisions on ecosystem services impact people. ROOT goes beyond weighing priorities and instead delivers optimal solutions.”

ROOT is at the frontier of connecting science to policy in both ecosystem services analysis and in the assessment of landscape restoration opportunities. Its design integrates spatial data on the provision of ecosystem services that would result from activities like forest landscape restoration with the socio-economic data on which many policy decisions are based. This is especially important as countries assess and implement their contributions toward the Bonn Challenge, which will scale to hundreds of millions of hectares under restoration in the next decade. The utility of ROOT in helping to guide and inform optimal restoration decisions can help direct precious funds for the implementation of restoration and increase the efficiency of these actions by focusing on areas that will have larger benefits for both people and nature.

ROOT was developed as a decision-support tool for both national and subnational Forest Landscape Restoration assessments using the Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology (ROAM). Examples of its application in Costa Rica, Myanmar, Malawi, Colombia, and Brazil’s Espirito Santo State will form the bulk of an upcoming IUCN Publication, Optimising Ecosystem Services in Forest Landscape Restoration: applications of the restoration opportunities optimisation tool (ROOT), scheduled for release later this year. It includes examples of how ROOT has been instrumental in helping countries optimise the placement of restoration activities for ecosystem services in national and subnational conservation, development, and agricultural objectives in support of increased ecological function to benefit people and livelihoods.

ROOT map of Espirito Santo, Brazil

Those with the rights to manage land spend a great deal of time and effort prioritising among competing interests. Prioritising among ecosystem services without understanding how they can be optimised leads to decisions that are based on a more incomplete understanding of the trade-offs among these services and can result in restoration in areas where optimal benefits may not exist. ROOT goes beyond identifying priority areas and identifies optimal areas for solutions to economic, social, and biophysical issues that can be addressed through investment in the ecosystem services upon which we all rely.

ROOT website: www.naturalcapitalproject.org/root

Further reading: The ROOT cause and its algorithmic effects: Optimise your forest landscape restoration planning

ROOT was supported by IUCN as part of the KNOWFOR programme, funded by UK Aid from the UK government.

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