A Neophyte's Guide to some Current/Emerging Themes in Restoration Ecology...(PS. Don't panic and bring a towel)

Strictly speaking the field of Restoration Ecology relates to scientifically driven factors - such as biodiversity and hierarchy, species interactions and communities, successional processes, evolution, climate change, ways to measure and replicate results – and how this is applied to restore a degraded ecosystem to a preferred state (the definition of what is “preferred” is yet to be perfectly defined). However, this is an inherently human endeavor, and as such is influenced by the structures within which the science and theory develops.

In general I have selected articles that speak to the social and cultural environment within which the theories of restoration ecology are evolving. I am concerned that the discipline of restoration ecology could be shaped and perhaps deformed by exactly the short-term and power-based paradigm of thinking that has led us to earth's ecosystems' current predicament. Given this, the articles chosen exhibit a a strong theme of conceptual discussion, highlighting what we did not know we did not know, and a preference for a fusion of inter-disciplinary thinking.

Norgaard, R.B. 2010. "Ecosystem services: From eye-opening metaphor to complexity blinder". Ecological Economics. 69 (6): 1219-1227.

  • Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. Norgaard's stance reinforces this quote, urging thought leaders to be aware of the power structure within which the theory of restoration ecology and the implementation of restoration is occurring. The paper is both an overview of the evolution of ecological services as a "sales" concept for the larger public to become invested in the seriousness of global ecological degradation, and Norgaard's pitch for an entirely new paradigm for handling ecological restoration on a planet scale.

Nasady, Paul. “Adaptive Co-Management and the Gospel of Resilience.” In Berkes, Fikret, Derek R. Armitage, and Nancy Doubleday. 2007. Adaptive co-management: collaboration, learning, and multi-level governance. Vancouver: UBC Press.

  • This paper illuminates the issue of culture, politics, and power structures. The article causes an examination of the lens through which projects are driven, and how perceptions change definitions of success.

Hobbs RJ, E Higgs, and JA Harris. 2009. "Novel ecosystems: implications for conservation and restoration". Trends in Ecology & Evolution (Personal Edition). 24 (11): 599-605.

  • Nothing is static – including the ecosystems we seek to restore. Given this, the problem arises of how to measure for the success of something that we have no previous reference for. Hobbs et al delve into this issue of emergent structures of an ecosystem, and concepts such as whether to interfere with the evolution of a new structure within an ecosystem.

Palmer, Margaret. 2009. "Reforming Watershed Restoration: Science in Need of Application and Applications in Need of Science". Estuaries and Coasts.32 (1): 1-17.

  • By providing a critique on observations of current restoration practices, and calling for more restoration ecology to be applied to-on-the-ground ecological restoration projects, Palmer's writing serves as a survey of themes in restoration ecology.

Galatowitsch, Susan M. 2009. "Carbon Offsets as Ecological Restorations". Restoration Ecology : 17 (5): 563-570.

  • Although many urban dwellers may not have ever consciously seen or experienced a restoration project, many have heard of catch phrases such as “carbon offsets” and carbon trading. This article discusses the mechanism of offsets, and cautions of the risk of this vehicle failing to achieve restorative goals.

Harris, James A, Richard J Hobbs, Eric Higgs, and James Aronson. 2006. "Ecological Restoration and Global Climate Change". Restoration Ecology. 14 (2): 170-176.

  • This article challenges the efficacy of traditional restoration practices in light of the changing climatic environment within which we are now operating.

Chazdon, Robin L., Celia A. Harvey, Oliver Komar, Daniel M. Griffith, Bruce G. Ferguson, Miguel Martínez-Ramos, Helda Morales, et al. 2009. "Beyond Reserves: A Research Agenda for Conserving Biodiversity in Human-modified Tropical Landscapes".Biotropica. 41 (2): 142-153.

  • This paper is important because of the emphasis of the presence of human production on much of the disturbed spaces, and how a synergy between two seemingly disparate goals – agriculture and ecological restoration – could be possible. Many of the other papers I am drawn to are idealist in the hope for a perfect and altruistic paradigm to emerge – this one embraces the reality of the capitalist and Machiavellian tendencies of the human race.

Flitcroft R.L., Dedrick D.C., Smith C.L., Thieman C.A., and Bolte J.P. 2009. "Social infrastructure to integrate science and practice: The experience of the Long Tom Watershed Council". Ecology and Society. 14 (2).

  • Amidst angst about the difficulty of formulating effective and holistic ecological restoration principles, it is pleasing to read a successful case study, particularly one that involved heavy participation from community stakeholders.

Stone, Kathy, Mahadev Bhat, Ramachandra Bhatta, and Andrew Mathews. 2008. "Factors influencing community participation in mangroves restoration: A contingent valuation analysis". Ocean & Coastal Management. 51 (6): 476.

  • This article puts a “human face” to some of the cultural and political issues discussed in other papers listed here.

Hagerman, S; Dowlatabadi, H; Chan, KMA; Satterfield, T. 2010. Integrative propositions for adapting conservation policy to the impacts of climate change. GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE-HUMAN AND POLICY DIMENSIONS 20 (2): 351-362.

  • This is an interesting thought piece for those interested in the high level concepts that drive the way policy, funding, and implementation decisions have historically come to the fore, and suggests a paradigm change - for example a triage approach - to how these factors could be driven going forward. The gargantuan, structural, issues are touched on in a broad sense.

Because of the speed of change on earth, with shrinking biodiversity and perceptible climate change upon us, the urgency of the need for solutions places Restoration Ecology on both the cutting edge of change and the nexus of many disciplines. With luck our improved information technologies and the speed at which we can share information will lead to an opportunity for previously unseen problem solving across regional, national, cultural and political boundaries.

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate your desire to look at the larger context of restoration ecology. I also think the papers you've chosen do an excellent job of calling into question the viability of our current mode of thinking. Depending on the audience, I think these papers are generally more approachable and an easier read. Thus, they'll be more accessible to the non-scientific public.