Are restored ecosystems wild or cultivated?

For instance, a prairie planting on what was once a golf course. There’s nobody cultivating it at least in a conventional sense.

And for that matter what about a prairie remnant that’s now maintained by human intervention through controlled burns, invasive species removal, grazing with cows (not wild bison), etc? Does that put the whole prairie under cultivation?


I think that cultivated plants should be considered those (and only those) that were deliberately planted by man.


A restored planting is “cultivated” when it is first planted out.
But if and when the plant species are multiplying and spreading of their own accord, those second generation plants are considered wild.


Big question. Here’s my personal opinion:

A vegetation community restored from nothing (e.g., bare ground with no remnant native seed bank - quarry, mine, some farm fields) should qualify as cultivated.

A restored (or maybe, more accurately, remediated) vegetation community that takes advantage of a native seed bank supplemented by overseeding species indigenous to that location could be considered wild.

A real pet peeve of mine is applying the word “restoration” the creation of vegetation communities which never would have historically occurred at a particular location. This is a huge trend in southwestern Ontario, where I live, especially in the Toronto area where planting a mix of attractive prairie wildflowers is invariably called “restoration”. It isn’t restoration - it’s akin to gardening. Worse is when so-called “restoration ecologists” mix species which would never co-occur in nature. This is why virtually every provincially rare species has at least one observation in Toronto - it’s not that Toronto is a hotbed of rare species, it’s because they’ve been introduced and justified as “restoration”.


My specific thoughts on your prairie example: if the plants there predated modern human management and are simply thriving or persisting under human management then they should still be considered wild.

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The question is not what we think, but how these things are classified under the iNaturalist system of labelling.


In the particular gold course-to-prairie planting I’m thinking of, it’s about nine years old so certainly many of the plants there are the descendants of the originally seeded plants. The large Baptisia and Silphium are likely from the original seeding but they’re multiplying as well, or at least stocking the seed bank. But it’s difficult to tell sometimes.

On BONAP and USDA maps most of the species are listed as present on the county level but the area was likely oak-hickory forest at the time of European settlement. The county has some small but legit hill prairie remnants under protection about 20 miles away though, so heaps of prairie plants are listed as locally native, even if they would not be in this exact spot or growing together in this composition. Just eyeballing it I bet 80% of the species are native within a 50 mile radius.

That being said, whatever management they’re doing is keeping most of the woodies out, and almost a decade in it’s apparent that the plant community is sustaining and reproducing. They’re probably burning or mowing it.

It seems like the line between planted prairie and remnant blur a bit when… remnants have similar human inputs through controlled burning.

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And that is why we keep returning to this topic. Semantics, classification. The seeds I stuck in my garden are cultivated, yet the weeds are not. If something is tended by a human in order to grow, it is not wild. The grey areas are things like cattle mentioned in the original comment. If they are outside grazing, they could technically be considered wild.
The last time I was involved in one of these discussions I imagined a thought experiment. I catch a moth (wild). She happens to lay eggs, which I rear (cultivated) to adulthood. I release the moths when they are mature (technically cultivated). Someone makes an observation of one of the moths not knowing they have been reared. Wild again. Reducto ad absurdum.
I’m not looking to start an argument, but just confirming what you said - it is the iNat classification that is the problem, not what an environment actually is.


In this case most of the species were around prior to human management but they probably did not grow as a community like this without human intervention.

Prior to human management it’s probable that ephemeral prairie-like plant communities popped up. They don’t persist here other than in areas with shallow soil and lots of limestone.

I think it’s better to call new ones wild even with what humans did, take it as people caring for the land, not plants themselves as national parks are receiving similar efforts from humans and still exist because of their status, not quite the same as caring for crops.

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Plants that came up without human assistance would be wild (even if tended to), as would a released moth.

I agree with this if the assistance is only removing other species (burning, mowing, herbicide, cutting trees/bushes, grazing). Not if you are watering or fertilizing.

If you collect insect eggs and raise them in order to ID, you can submit an observation of the eggs when and where you found them then add a casual observation of the adult that you raised (and released) and link the 2 obs together so the eggs can be IDed. If you capture an adult and it lays eggs while in captivity, I don’t think the offspring should be considered wild.


As I interpret iNaturalist policy, the individuals originally planted in the restoration site are classified as cultivated. Their offspring are wild. Simple (in theory).

In practice, it’s hard to tell if an individual plant is wild or cultivated. I generally treat them as wild, though maybe not, especially for trees or shrubs that are probably still the same planted ones.


Here’s the thing: mankind has been impacting wild ecosystems and changing them for thousands of years.

Beginning in Africa as far back possibly as a million years ago, we began to change and assert our presence on the landscape through the intentional use of fire and stone tools. We used fire to maintain the savannas and grasslands that we and our ancestors favoured, and thereby the food that we found - be it antelopes or the tubers and other edible plants that grow in savannas.

We carried the tradition across into other regions around the world as we left Africa and spread across Asia into the Americas and Australia, bringing vegetative changes to the ecosystems and leaving megafaunal extinctions in our wake.

Those same traditions continued in the New World, with Native Americans having techniques to promote the kind of landscape that deer and other prey preferred. The Aboriginals in Australia also have their ‘firestick farming’, where again the use of fire is used to encourage the sort of habitat that prey like kangaroos and reptiles favoured.

In fact, there is a circulating theory, supported with some evidence, that the Amazon rainforest is a result of human cultivation:

Keeping the above in mind, is it useful to ask if a particular ecosystem is ‘wild’ vs ‘cultivated’? Seeing as humans have modified ecosystems for their own benefit for thousands of years, we could technically call such ecosystems “cultivated” even though modern sensibilities treat these as wild.

Aside from particular areas deep in the frozen wastes of the polar regions, there is hardly anywhere a landscape that hasn’t been shaped, modified, or otherwise untouched by humankind.

In fact, many endangered species are clinging on only because we as a species have made the conscious effort to set aside habitat for them, boost their numbers through cultivation/captive breeding, and intentionally “restore” lost habitat for them, such as in the example mentioned in the OP. When we reintroduce them to the ‘wild’, that in itself is another human change to the ecosystem, however benign (and even beneficial).

Many ecosystems and landscapes in national parks, to this day, require some level of human management - for example, the occasional controlled burns done in South African nature reserves to rejuvenate the fynbos, grassland, and savanna ecosystems where such species are clearly fire-dependent as part of their lifecycle. Yet no one would dream of calling any of these animal and plant species as domesticated in any shape or form.

‘Wild’ and ‘cultivated’ blur together when one takes the long view through a historical and prehistorical lens.


It’s also worth pointing out that by using the current rule (planted or seeds dispersed by humans) there are almost no mature, native trees in the pacific northwest of the US that would count as a wild. The entire landscape near me has been replanted/reseeded after clear cutting, even in large national parks.

I do understand what the rule is trying to accomplish, it’s just not perfect.


No system invented by humans is perfect.

We just need to try to make sure that people who are using iNat understand when to call something captive or cultivated, and also that they understand that iNat is primarily intended for observations of wild organisms rather than captive or cultivated ones.


Well, hopefully they’re at least native! One thing that bothers me in the US is that seed companies sell “wildflower” seed mixes that have, for instance, Moroccan Toadflax and Bachelor Buttons. Those are not even native to North America.


I think it is useful to keep garden plants out of maps. So, yes, it has value.

Sorry… I missed how 1000+ yo redwoods forests were shaped by indigenous people? I think they made dug out canoes out of fallen trees, but I’m waiting to hear how they otherwise adapted and reshaped old growth redwoods? (Prior to Europe’s settlers harvesting and logging?)


I agree. My point wasn’t about garden or agricultural plants, it was geared towards the OP question of whether restored ecosystems were wild or cultivated.

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