Synthesis on the effectiveness of soil translocation for plant community restoration.
Many degraded ecosystems need active restoration to conserve biodiversity and re-establish ecosystem function, both highlighted targets of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and the proposed EU Nature restoration law. Soil translocation, where both plant propagules and their associated soil biota are co-introduced, has increasingly been proposed as a powerful restoration technique for terrestrial ecosystems. However, a synthesis of the effectiveness of this method across ecosystems is lacking. To address how soil translocation affects restoration success, we performed a meta-analysis synthesizing data from 46 field experiments and their respective reference ecosystems in 17 countries across four continents. In each experiment, vegetation composition was recorded in response to soil translocation treatments and the resultant vegetational changes (diversity and composition) were quantified. We found that soil translocation leads to plant community development further away from the control and more towards the reference plant communities compared with treatments where only plant propagules were introduced. However, the variability of effect sizes among experiments was large, suggesting strong dependence of restoration success on restoration context. We found that restoration success was more likely on loamy soils and when translocation treatments were implemented over larger spatial areas (> 180 m2). Furthermore, we found that restoration success either consistently increased or decreased over time depending on the experiment. Not only is this congruent with positive feedbacks between plant and soil communities driving plant community development, but it also suggests that the composition of the translocated plant and soil communities, and initial starting conditions, are critical for long-term restoration success. Synthesis and applications. Our analysis highlights soil translocation can be a successful restoration method across a broad range of ecosystems. However, its implementation needs to depend on a thorough evaluation of local conditions and the potential added value. Further refinement of soil translocation techniques is needed to increase success rates.