Ecological Theory and Community Restoration Ecology

Palmer, MA; Ambrose, RF; Poff, NL. 1997. Ecological theory and community restoration ecology. RESTORATION ECOLOGY 5 (4): 291-300.

In this very informative paper, the authors contend that ecological theory, specifically community ecological theory, should inform the science of restoration ecology. (This may be old news now, but the paper was written back in 1997). The article poses, and attempts to answer, a number of larger questions for the field of restoration from a community ecology perspective. These questions are some of the larger issues we've been struggling with in the class, eg: Is restoration of habitat alone sufficient? How do we set appropriate restoration goals? Do we focus on restoring function or structure? How does one recreate natural disturbance regimes? Can we use restoration as an experiment to test ecological hypotheses?

I found that the paper provides an excellent background of the basic ecological theories and frameworks that inform restoration ecology today. I think this paper would be an invaluable resource to those of use who are not trained ecologists. The questions and answers presented in the paper, while 13 years old, are still mostly relevant today. Indeed, many of the questions that they highlight as 'in need of research' remain largely unanswered today. Finally, the authors offer practical advice for focusing restoration efforts to achieve desired goals, eg: the protection of an endangered species vs. total ecosystem diversity.

The only downside of the paper is that it is a little dated, and this became an issue when authors suggested using Succession Theory to inform restoration efforts. From my understanding of last class' discussion, current theoretical thinking is that the succession model is outdated. However, it's often necessary to "read back in time" to find gems like this paper that offer a clear and comprehensive look at basic theoretical frameworks. Well worth the read.

Image: Bison grazing in a field. One of the examples used in the paper to demonstrate the role of low-level disturbance in promoting ecosystem diversity.

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