Top 10 list from Melissa, Ben, and Sibyl

Global change has an increasingly important impact on ecosystems around the world. Whether this be due to climate change, unprecedented rates of introduction of non-native species, or land use conversion, the larger environment is forcing ecological management goals to evolve rapidly. Along with an awareness of this external forcing comes a growing realization that the human aspect of ecosystems (use, valuation, and social context) cannot be ignored in environmental management. If we are to maintain the form and/or function of important ecosystems, we need to be mindful and conscious of what we are doing and why, and we need to be realistic about what is possible and what is really going on.

When restoration ecology is seen in this light, several important themes emerge. First, the rapidly changing larger context in which we find ourselves makes some timely 'thinking outside the box' crucial. Second, as the situations for many ecosystems worsen, it is no longer acceptable to allow important sources of knowledge to remain disconnected from restoration practitioners: at the broad, conceptual level, sound ecological principles need to be central in restoration projects; and at the project-specific level, traditional and local knowledge needs to be respected and used more often. Finally, ecologists and social scientists need to work together with managers to better understand how humans interact with ecosystems and how this needs to be taken into account in any restoration project. Now more than ever it is critical to think about why we restore what we restore, and for whom.

"Thinking outside the box"

1) 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.

Traditional thinking about 'native' and 'introduced' species and the ecosystems they create needs to be turned on its head. This paper does exactly that, calling us to think about why we want to restore ecosystems and to what. The authors categorize ecosystems into those which can be restored to a reference state, those which will most likely become a hybrid ecosystem, partly novel and partly the reference state, and those which will be entirely novel. It may be that the ecosystems we have are not the ecosystems we wish we had, but we need to work with what is here. Even if we retain our original reference state as an objective, it is likely that our ecosystem will take a trajectory through some novel state, and we will need to think about how to manage those ecosystems as well. This paper makes us think about the purpose of restoration, and forces us to be realistic about what we really have to work with.

2) Jackson, S. T., & Hobbs, R. J. (2009). Ecological restoration in the light of ecological history. Science, 325(5940), 567-569.

This paper is important in rethinking the 'reference state' to which a restored ecosystem is compared. Wisdom from historical ecology and paleoecology reminds us that ecosystems are constantly changing and have undergone very large changes in the past. The authors make explicit the point that the timescale you use for determining your reference state is important, and we should both use more historical and paleoecological information for better context, and not be so attached to specific reference states. The reference state is a fundamentally important idea in restoration ecology, and making sure that the concept is robust and not ad-hoc is very important.

Integrating knowledge

3) Gagnon, C. A., and D. Berteaux. 2009. Integrating traditional ecological knowledge and ecological science: a question of scale. Ecology and Society 14(2): 19. [online] URL:

One overarching question in ecosystem management is how to integrate knowledge from different stakeholders. In this study, the traditional ecological knowledge of the Inuit people of northeastern Canada is combined and compared with the knowledge of scientists on the subject of the arctic fox and snow goose. The two knowledge systems tend to agree where the scale of observations (in time and space) are similar and tend to complement each other where the scales are different. This is an important study because it takes a step towards bringing the two knowledge systems together in a significant way, respecting each of them.

4) Beschta, R. L., and W. J. Ripple. 2010. Recovering riparian plant communities with wolves in northern yellowstone, U.S.A. Restoration Ecology 18 (3): 380-9.

The authors apply food web theory to the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone. The underlying concept is that without a top predator in the system, herbivores suppress vegetation, and when wolves are reintroduced, the herbivores are controlled, releasing the vegetation to grow. The restoration of food web structure (i.e. the reintroduction of the top predator) is an important consideration in restoring ecosystem function, and most restoration studies target plants rather than animals. This is a great example of taking basic ecological concepts and applying them to a restoration project.

5) Viki A. Cramer, Richard J. Hobbs, Rachel J. Standish. 2008. What's new about old fields? Land abandonment and ecosystem assembly, Trends in Ecology & Evolution, Volume 23, Issue 2, Pages 104-112

This paper is valuable because it concisely summarizes community assembly theory, and applies these concepts to perhaps the most studied of all ecosystems, old fields. Many basic ecological principles were developed in old fields and thus if we can’t successfully direct ecological trajectories on old fields, it seems like we don’t have much of a chance in any system. This is also a good example of applying community ecology concepts to a very real example of restoration.

Understanding Human Context

6) 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).

This paper is a good example of a way in which stakeholders can come together to manage an ecosystem (in this case, a watershed). While of course every situation is different, it is refreshing to see how a group of organizations and individuals are capable of working together to meet a common goal of restoration. Also, having an integrated plan at the level of a watershed is also a good idea from a theoretical, landscape ecology standpoint.

7) Palmer, MA; Filoso, S Restoration of Ecosystem Services for Environmental Markets
SCIENCE, 325 (5940): 575-576 JUL 31 2009

The idea of restoration-based credits in an environmental market may sound nice at first, encouraging more people to earn the credits for restoring degraded ecosystems, but it is a dangerous idea when the science has not advanced to the point of being able to really quantify what is 'restored' and how functional it is. Essential to these ideas is the importance of restoration of process rather than simply restoration of structure. Perhaps most importantly, by giving restoration credits to entities which degrade other ecosystems when the replacement ecosystem may not have adequate function, we could accelerate environmental degradation. This paper is a great 'wake-up call' on the idea of determining economic values for ecosystems and the dangers of trading in ecosystem functions when we are not really yet able to measure them adequately, and in fact they may not be truly comparable.

8) 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.

This paper is important because it is accessible to a broad audience and it points out that many supposedly objective restoration goals are actually rooted in subjective ideas about what we (society, scientists, etc.) would like to see in an ecosystem, and that if projects are to be deemed successful, they must lead to “desirable” states. There is definitely some danger in the explicit acknowledgement of this reality (e.g. greater ability for scientific claims to be undermined by special interests), but as scientists we must accept the truth of this premise.

9) Kosoy, N. and Corbera, E. 2010. Payments for ecosystem services as commodity fetishism. Ecological Economics 69: 1228-1236.

Kosoy and Corbera unpack the concept of ecosystem services as a social construct, which will never account for full environmental costs. They emphasize three essential flaws within the pricing system: ecosystem complexity is reduced to a single service, the multiplicity of values attributed to the service are denied, and power asymmetries are created through the pricing of services.

10) Groot, R.S. de; Alkemade, J.R.M.; Braat, L.; Hein, L.G.; Willemen, L.L. 2010. Challenges in integrating the concept of ecosystem services and values in landscape planning, management and decision making. Ecological Complexity 7: 260-272.

The authors discuss an integrated approach to applying the idea of ecosystem services in decision-making. The authors develop a typology to assess the sustainability of ecosystem services. Their work treats ecosystem-services as a “bundle” of services, not isolated functions. They propose analyzing trade-offs with decision-making by creating landscape function maps, or suitability mapping. Contrasting with the papers arguing against economic valuation of ecosystems, this paper makes an attempt to value ecosystems without condensing it down to a single ecosystem service.

Many of these papers actually address more than one of the themes described in the introduction. These and many other authors here who are pushing for more integration of knowledge, application of ecological concepts, and acknowledgement of both a changing world and larger context and the need for humans to be part of the restoration picture.


  1. The categories nailed the most pertinent issues we've discussed in class and capture the interdisciplinary subtext of restoration- pushing into light to assist with deeper examination.
    What I found interesting was that you framed this list in the context of climate change, yet none of the papers explicitly addressed it (except sideways)- is this because you don't feel the papers others have included are as novel or instructive, or it is in the current "academic/theoretical climate" it is not possible to move outside this perspective?

  2. I really appreciate yall's list, especially because you included the integration of traditional ecological knowledge, which seems to be escaping much of our other lists. Additionally, I think it is good to focus like yall did on understanding the human (social-political-economic) context.

    And on that note, given that yall want to make "thinking outside the box" a pillar of your framework, why not include a paper like
    Perfecto and Vandermeer's instead? (The agroecological matrix as alternative to the land-sparing/agriculture intensification model. PNAS March 30, 2010 vol. 107 no. 13 5786-579) Hillary considers it, but does not list it, because it "does not comfortably fit within the bounds of traditional definitions of restoration". Perhaps it would fit better with yall's thinking outside the box then.

  3. Responding to Hillary: I didn't intend to frame it using climate change, exactly... the first few sentences were intended to motivate the importance of "thinking outside the box" of traditional patterns given changing larger contexts, and I really meant 'global change' rather than specifically climate change.

    One paper I really liked on that front that involved climate change was the Bradley paper (maybe climate change will help as well as hurt in terms of invasive plants), but when I cut the papers down to 10 it didn't end up making the list (I was coordinating with Ben and Sibyl via email). I wasn't particularly trying to avoid climate change related papers, but I tend to view climate change as one of many large-context changes to keep in mind in restoration.

    Responding to Gustavo: I'm not familiar with that specific paper but I think that sounds great. I hated to cut Chazdon, for example. And while we're at it, maybe a paper which represents the importance of the urban environment would be good as well (though I don't have one in mind right this moment). I also had trouble figuring out sometimes when to put a paper in the first or third category! I moved some of them back and forth a bunch of times. In the end, it got to close to the time when I had to post the list and this is what we ended up with. For example, I was debating about whether the Palmer and Filoso should be in the first category, because it was a broader-thinking issue.

    Thanks for the feedback!

  4. And actually, while we're at it, I wish this had been a top 15 or 20 list instead. I would have definitely included Funk et al, Chazdon et al, and Bradley et al, and possibly one or two others. Especially as I'm reading through other people's lists and I'm seeing some of those papers showing up on their lists, I'm wishing I could have them all together on this list.

    One weakness of coming up with the themes as I did was the problem of some papers really coming in under more than one theme (which makes them really great!). I wish I had a better way to handle that.

  5. Agreed Melissa. I cut more of the social science papers that were on my shortlist. Seems like if Funk, Chazdon and Bradley were what you cut from yours, our lists of 15-20 top papers would have be very convergent.

  6. I also liked the clarity of these categories, and agree that a list of ten is too short - maybe top ten under each category would be more useful?

    If one imagines someone USING these lists in the future, it becomes even more important not to leave out a different but important point of view.

  7. I think this illustrates the depth of what we're dealing with here. Restoration ecology is so interwoven with socio-political systems that compiling an inclusive list of papers that covers that whole realm would be impossible. It involves two of the most complex systems we know of interacting across a crazy history of changing relationships. Add to that unpredictability of the future, and we're dealing with a world full of books and articles.