Top 10 indicators for evaluating restoration trajectories in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest
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Considering that ecosystem restoration is a long-term process, the evaluation of each stage of its trajectory may allow us to predict the success of the restoration goals. Given that there are plenty of indicators in the scientific literature for measuring restoration success, and there are stakeholders which are the key actors of restoration, our aim was to determine a common and simple set of indicators ranked by stakeholders for evaluating the restoration trajectory. We selected 52 indicators for monitoring high-diversity forest restoration projects in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest and organized them into six categories: (1) physical and structural, (2) composition/biodiversity, (3) environmental services, (4) ecological processes, (5) economic and (6) social. We sent questionnaires to stakeholders from five Brazilian states, who evaluated these indicators (with rates ranging from 0 to 3, where 0 = not important or should not be considered; 1 = low importance; 2 = important; and 3 = very important, considering four time-stages throughout the process (2–3, 3–10, 10–50 and > 50 years). Based on this assessment, we ranked the indicators and tested whether the importance of the categories changed between them and over time. We present the “top ten” indicators (with the ten highest grades) for each stage, selected, and ranked by practitioners, that can be used to evaluate restoration projects and provide guidance for restoration policies. In the initial stage, from 2 to 3 years, social attributes were highly important, related to the degree of acceptance by the community. Economic indicators were also important at the initial stage, when the costs of developing, deploying, and maintaining restoration actions are high. Physical and structural indicators were more important in the short-term stage, from 3 to 10 years. Ecological indicators related to composition/biodiversity and ecological processes became relevant after 3 years and kept so onwards. Only in the long-term, addressing ecosystem services became an important indicator of the restoration success, to stakeholders. Overall, stakeholders care for forest structure and establishment of plants in all stages, while composition/biodiversity and richness gain importance in more advanced phases of restoration trajectory.