Priority effects and ecological restoration

Research output: Journal contributionsScientific review articlesResearch


Priority effects refer to the order or timing of species arrival, including how species that arrive early at a site either positively or negatively affect establishment, growth, or reproduction of species that arrive later. Despite the clear implications of priority effects for ecological restoration, there have been no reviews of how and where priority effects have been studied and the extent to which findings can be applied to restoration. Here, we systematically review the literature on priority effects by (1) synthesizing information from papers that compared simultaneous and nonsimultaneous planting or sowing; (2) discussing the mechanisms through which priority effects operate, (3) considering how these mechanisms might be manipulated to achieve restoration goals; and (4) highlighting future research needed to improve the use of priority effects in restoration. In a term‐targeted search, we found 43 studies that experimentally manipulated the order of arrival of different species. Overall, these concluded that even small delays in arrival time, as opposed to simultaneous arrival of species, can promote differences in subsequent community composition as well as ecosystem functions. There were very few studies on the long‐term stability of these priority effects, and the majority were conducted in temperate grasslands. Our findings suggest that creating alternative vegetation states via priority treatments is a promising avenue for restoration. However, for the concept to be best operationalized for restoration, we need research in more ecosystems that are priorities for restoration, and treatments that are followed over extended time periods.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13317
JournalRestoration Ecology
Issue number1
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 01.2021

    Research areas

  • Ecosystems Research - community assembly, competition, facilitation, historical contigency, plant order of arrival