Gustavo's Top Ten

I see three important developments in restoration ecology. The first is a shift away from place-based focus on existing or historical assemblages and towards a more explicit understanding of management for desirable (anthropocentric) states. These are the novel ecosystems, but also, according to a second point of progress, these are highly managed ecosystems such as urban and agricultural areas. The greater integration of urban ecology and agroecology in the discipline of restoration would improve on this past bias for "natural" landscapes and address the long-sought purpose of addressing the root causes, not merely the symptoms, of environmental degradation. The third and broadest development in restoration ecology has been the increasing prominence of social, political and economic considerations. While anything like a full blown political ecology of restoration is still to be articulated, several important papers have questioned the adequacy of management for narrowly (economically) conceived ecosystem services and unmasked the commodification and privatization of the practice of ecological restoration. I trust that the continued development of these trends within the discipline will significantly strengthen its theoretical capacity and empirical basis, bringing it closer to the foremost advances in both social and environmental sciences, particularly regarding the relationship between the two.

First group

Seastedt, T. R., R. J. Hobbs, and K. N. Suding. 2008. Management of novel ecosystems: are novel approaches required? Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 6:547-553.

(or R.J. Hobbs, E. Higgs, J.A. Harris, Novel ecosystems: implications for conservation and restoration. Trends in Ecology & Evolution - 1 November 2009 (Vol. 24, Issue 11, pp. 599-605)

These set the stage for restoration ecology to come out of its shell and situate itself more adequately among the most burning and prominent questions in nature/society studies, precisely because it begins to break down the ideological fetishism involved in restoration of "nature" back to its "natural" stage.

Second group

Newman, A. 2008. Inclusive Planning of Urban Nature. Ecological Rest. 26(3):229-234
***additional article

This essay is important because it reviews recent literature on urban ecological restoration and promotes its place within the discipline. Perhaps some essays among those reviewed would bring a more interesting or innovative insight on urban ecological restoration, but I promote this one for its explicit engagement with the importance of the urban space in the discipline of ecological restoration in the first place.

Vieira, D. L. M., Holl, K. D. and Peneireiro, F. M. (2009), Agro-Successional Restoration as a Strategy to Facilitate Tropical Forest Recovery. Restoration Ecology, 17: 451–459.

(or, another good paper making a very similar argument in another journalt: Diemont, Stewart A. W., and Jay F. Martin. 2009. Lacandon Maya ecosystem management: sustainable design for subsistence and environmental restoration. Ecological Applications 19:254–266.)

These illustrate the value of including agroecology alongside restoration, and do so quite directly and explicitly.

Perfecto, I., Vandermeer, J. The agroecological matrix as alternative to the land-sparing/agriculture intensification model. PNAS March 30, 2010 vol. 107 no. 13 5786-579
***additional article

This is exactly the sort of paper that would benefit much restoration ecologists, but which generally escapes their attention. Although it does not situate itself as explicitly as the ones above on a discussion of ecological restoration, it nevertheless follows the same rationale and brings the discipline around to the recognition of the full consequences of a move away from restoring historical states to domesticating ecosystems. Alongside with Newman's essay on urban ecological restoration and the ones above on novel ecosystems, we see the emergence of a much larger and richer field for ecological restoration work.

Third group

Nadasdy, P. 2007. Adaptive Co-Management and the Gospel of Resilience. In Adaptive Co-Mangement: Collaboration, Learning, and Multi-Level Governance, eds.
D. Armitage, F. Berkes and N. Doubleday. Toronto, Ontario: University of British Columbia Press.

Absolutely central to the progress of restoration ecology. The more nuanced understanding of working with novel, urban and agro-ecosystems precludes the possibility and desirability of planning projects with the goal of leaving the ecosystem "restored to run on its own", and therefore adaptive co-management becomes the dynamic of restoration practice on its own right. This paper is important for having no hesitations in explicitly addressing capitalism and the politics involved in ecological restoration in this context of adaptive co-management.

Kosoy, N. and Corbera, E. (2010) Payments for ecosystem services as commodity fetishism. Ecological Economics, Volume 69, Issue 6, 1 April 2010, Pages 1228-1236

Akin to Nadasdy's article above, this one is important to the development of restoration ecology in bringing a richer social theory to bear on the problems of capitalist influence on ecological restoration. Moreover, it sets the terms with which to comprehend the importance of several other key papers in the recent development of restoration ecology, such as the ones below.

Peterson, M. J., D. M. Hall, A. M. Feldpausch-Parker, and A. T. R. Peterson. 2010. Obscuring Ecosystem Function with Application of the Ecosystem Services Concept. Conservation Biology 24: 113-119.

An important paper that complements the one above. Making an argument similar to Norgaard's (whose recent papers could also join this group), Peterson et al.'s article is more valuable in its more direct and explicit political engagement. This politicization of restoration ecology is necessary counter the privatization of ecological restoration, as seen in the articles below.

(Failing the agreement of the class on this specific paper, at least one of the following narrower topic papers could at least illustrate the movement above:

Walker, S., Brower, A. L., Stephens, R. T. and Lee, W. G. (2009), Why bartering biodiversity fails. Conservation Letters, 2: 149–157.


Galatowitsch, S. M. 2009. Carbon Offsets as Ecological Restorations. Restoration Ecology 17:563-570.)

Rebecca Lave, Martin Doyle, and Morgan Robertson. Privatizing stream restoration in the US. Social Studies of Science October 2010 vol. 40 no. 5 677-703
***additional article

A sharp and clear political ecology of restoration, addressing privatization of the discipline and practice of restoration. (I am sure Adam can complement this one with a similarly good paper on privatization of wetland restoration, and others, perhaps Ben, could do the same for reforestation.)

Gonzalo-Turpin, H., N. Couix, and L. Hazard. 2008. Rethinking partnerships with the aim of producing knowledge with practical relevance: a case study in the field of ecological restoration. Ecology and Society 13(2): 53.
***additional article

This article builds on an important paper by Light and Higgs, “The Politics of Restoration Success” (1993), highlighting the role of restoration within society not just in the “application” of ecological restoration projects, but in the very PRODUCTION of knowledge about ecosystems and restoration in the first place. It may not be the best paper making this argument, but it is solidly within the scope of restoration ecology, and its epistemological and political consequences are great.


Aronson, J., Blignaut, J. N., Milton, S. J., Le Maitre, D., Esler, K. J., Limouzin, A., Fontaine, C., De Wit, M. P., Mugido, W., Prinsloo, P., Van Der Elst, L. and Lederer, N. (2010), Are Socioeconomic Benefits of Restoration Adequately Quantified? A Meta-analysis of Recent Papers (2000–2008) in Restoration Ecology and 12 Other Scientific Journals. Restoration Ecology, 18: 143–154.
***additional article

This review succinctly draws together many of the themes discussed in the papers above, highlighting the way in which social, economic and political factors are beginning to be understood to require greater prominence within the discipline of restoration ecology.

It has been a very good exercise to make up this list. I am happy with how many interesting and important essays can be promoted. Still, I feel that not enough political ecology would come to inform the developments of restoration if not enough of these points are covered, from urban and agro-ecosystems, to the political economy of restoration projects, and the privatization and commodification of ecosystem services. I have indicated a few alternative papers at some points, and here I will attempt a partial ranking, since I will not attend our group discussion this Friday. Essays like 3, 9 and 10 could more easily be dropped in favor of the others, since their main arguments and importance is discernible among the rest. On the other hand, essays like 5, 6 and 7a are far more important in themselves, since they capture the heart of some of the most pressing questions and problems of the developing field of restoration ecology. I have attempted to give alternatives on some occasions (such as 1b, 3b, 7b, 7c, and 8b) to allow for a more flexible engagement with other's lists. I hope we can find common ground.


  1. I'm intrigued by your political ecology comment- what would a comprehensive political ecology of restoration look like? Do you feel like our conceptual frameworks engaged deeply in these nested social-economic-political relationships? How can papers focused on ecological theory (eg stable state models) address it without appearing tokenistic?

  2. I appreciate the inclusion of agroecology and urban ecology articles in a list of important readings for restoraton ecology. The notion of ecological services can and should be applied to lands that need to be re-purposed from previously degraded states, but that do not necessarily lend themselves to being restored to an idealized non-human state. Agricultural mis-use or abuse, as well as the abuses of urbanization and industrialization, have created vast zones that need human attention to address their degradation.

    In terms of urban re-use alone, the issues are broad and pressing. Developers, urban designers, architects, and landscape architects are being called upon to re-think the urban built environment all over the globe, and the old paradigm of restoration makes it easy for them to ignore the ecological import of urban space, or to treat it superficially, at best. The knowledge and resources of restoration ecologists will be increasingly important in novel applications as well as novel methodologies.

  3. I like the way you've included some alternative papers, and I'm glad you've put in a variety of different papers that advance different parts of the social/economic/etc side of things. I wish I could have included more of those papers in our list... I specifically wanted to include the Nadasdy and Galatowitsch papers and they got cut (the first because it was from before 2008, the second just because of space). And you list so many more great papers here!

    As I'm reading your list, I'm realizing that your frequent reminders of the importance of agroecological systems (and urban systems, too) are really in line with the concept of "intervention ecology" - the term not only allows us to combine restoration and conservation a little more gracefully, it also allows us to include agroecology and urban ecology as well. In general I think the term allows us to more easily integrate the idea that we are fundamentally a part of the systems we are managing into our thinking about how to manage them.