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

A free downloadable tool for planners and other land managers to pinpoint the best strategies for regional forest landscape restoration is now available.

Screenshot of the ROOT user interface, showing a map and sample data from forest landscape planning efforts in Uganda. Photo: P. Hawthorne/NatCap

Algorithms seem to be used for everything these days. Internet search preferences lead to personalised suggestions for both your future searches and the ads that websites target to you. The use of algorithms for customising interactions is here to stay, and sometimes these data manipulation techniques turn up in globally useful situations. One of the newest applications of data, assessing forest landscape restoration (FLR) potential, has jumped into the algorithms game as well.

Introducing ROOT.

The Restoration Opportunities Optimization Tool (ROOT) is a new ecosystem services software tool that assists with FLR planning. This downloadable tool was developed through a partnership between the Natural Capital Project, the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment, and IUCN’s Global Forest and Climate Change Programme to help optimise targeted investments in FLR. Fundamentally, ROOT allows users to parse data in such a way as to mix and match FLR strategies and interventions over a landscape to reap the greatest benefits while targeting specific needs. Once the user enters spatial data into the software, the programme can overlay and synergise these data into useful maps, graphs, and other data visualisations. The associated ROOT User’s Guide specifies that, “At the core of ROOT is an optimization algorithm that identifies the parcels that are most likely to deliver the greatest benefits under restoration.” In other words, it streamlines a previously labour intensive process.

The flexible tool allows users to upload their own data including ecosystem service maps and areas of restoration opportunity. According to the User’s Guide, ROOT is “an interface to visualize service maps and explore tradeoffs in terms of the potential benefits of restoration based on different [FLR] objectives (carbon, water, biodiversity)…. The tool also allows users to generate optimal restoration strategies based on defined objectives and constraints.” Effectively, ROOT quantifies the communication of the tradeoffs among ecosystem services in competing FLR objectives — a useful set of data for any land manager or regional planner to weigh the pros and cons of the outcomes of different FLR options.

To try out a hypothetical workflow, follow “Marta” who works for the Ministry of Planning in Uganda as she develops a restoration plan for the country. Marta’s story begins on page 4 of the ROOT User’s Guide. The ROOT software tool itself is also available at the same link, and includes sample data from Uganda to paint a clearer picture of how the process works and what kind of outcomes to expect.

So what outcomes can be expected from using this software for assessing FLR potential? According to the User’s Guide, the outcomes of ROOT are:

  1. Service maps representing how alternative restoration strategies would affect the provision of multiple ecosystem services;
  2. Tradeoff curves depicting the relationship between two alternative restoration objectives to assist users in identifying their optimal restoration strategy; and
  3. Restoration portfolios that identify optimal restoration strategies based on user-defined weights and constraints.

Anyone can apply the Restoration Opportunity Optimization Tool to his or her cause. The software is free to use with the sample data provided in the download, or with your own data. Be sure to let the ROOT team know if their tools and products work for your needs. Contact them by signing into the NatCap Forums. With your input, perhaps ROOT could be equipped with an even better set of algorithms.


Note: If you are interested in using ROOT, consider taking the next step to refining your work on the ground by also incorporating the Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology.

Work area: 
Forest Landscape Restoration
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