Using leading and lagging indicators for forest restoration

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Jun 03, 2021
Liz Ota, Jennifer Firn, Robin L. Chazdon, Nestor Gregorio, Sharif A. Mukul, Ricardo A. G. Viani, Claudia Romero, John Herbohn



  1. Forest restoration targets are often planned, implemented, measured and reported based on few short-term lagging indicators (i.e. indicators of realised outcomes), such as the number of seedlings and area planted.
  2. We propose the use of leading indicators, which denote likelihood of a certain outcome (e.g. odds that seedlings are of quality and properly planted) to complement lagging indicators and describe how this construct differs from the current practice and how they can be used in conjunction with available frameworks for forest restoration.
  3. Leading indicators have great promise to complement lagging indicators because they address the near-term factors more likely to influence the progress and performance of restoration efforts. For example, secure land tenure (leading indicator) can increase the likelihood of long-term maintenance and protection (lagging indicator), and the use of best practices in quality seedling production (leading indicator) can increase survival rate (lagging indicator).
  4. By observing near-term leading indicators, management can be adapted towards a goal. Long-term impacts cannot be verified in the early stages of forest restoration, hence claiming success within the length of project cycles is often unrealistic. Reporting on leading indicators can inform the likelihood that forest restoration goals will be achieved in the longer term.
  5. Synthesis and applications. Leading indicators complement lagging indicators and can be used in forest restoration beyond monitoring and evaluation. Indicators can also be used in the design, adaptive management and reporting of restoration interventions. Leading indicators can be used to identify issues that might prevent success in a timely manner so they can be addressed.

Read the full article in Journal of Applied Ecology.
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