Top 10 List

Restoration Ecology Top 10 List

Restoration ecology is human intervention in a degraded ecosystem that restores it to a state in which its functioning is sustainably improved. As climate change exacerbates the environmental crisis, the field of restoration ecology is attracting new attention as a potential tool in addressing the challenges ahead. Restoration has traditionally been defined as restoring something to a previous state, and this attention is challenging the field to further refine its define for itself, and its objectives. What constitutes a successful restoration, and at what spatial and temporal scales? How should policymakers treat the inherently experimental nature of restoration in an increasingly uncertain world? The following 10 papers make critical contributions to defining restoration ecology’s role and towards advancing the field:

R.J. Hobbs and J.A. Harris, Restoration ecology: repairing the Earth's ecosystems in the new millennium. Restor. Ecol. 9 (2001), pp. 239–246.
• This paper argues that restoration ecology will play a critical role in mitigating damage to the Earth’s ecosystems and lays out a conceptual basis for the field that recognizes the dynamic nature of ecosystems and focuses on future (not past) functioning.
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)
• This paper extends “Restoration ecology: repairing the Earth’s ecosystems in the new millennium” by introducing the label “novel ecosystems” for ecosystems that are being transformed into “new, non-historical configurations owing to a variety of local and global changes.” In light of this, the authors suggest a revision of restoration ecology “norms and practices away from the traditional place-based focus on existing or historical assemblages.”
Palmer, M. A. (2009). Reforming watershed restoration: science in need of application and applications in need of science. Estuaries and Coasts, 32, 1–17.
• This paper points out restoration practices are currently engineering-driven and that ecological knowledge is being under-used. The author suggests important ways in which this knowledge should more effectively influence restorations and gaps in scientific knowledge that need to be addressed.
Chazdon, RL; Harvey, CA; Komar, O; et al. Beyond Reserves: A Research Agenda for Conserving Biodiversity in Human-modified Tropical Landscapes BIOTROPICA, 41 (2): 142-153 MAR 2009
• This paper lays out a comprehensive research agenda for conservation and restoration in human-modified tropical landscapes that has significant implications for broader ecosystems. The authors, in effect, have done a “gap analysis” that extends the research needs laid out by Palmer in the previous paper.
White, P. S., and J. L. Walker. 1997. Approximating nature's variation: Selecting and using reference information in restoration ecology. Restoration Ecology 5:338-349.
• This paper argues that reference information is essential to choosing restoration sites, defining restoration goals and evaluating restoration success. Restoration is inherently experimental (particularly in the face of unprecedented spatial and temporal change) and multiple sources of reference information, including historical data from the chosen site and contemporary data from reference sites should be integrated into planning.
Harris, JA; Hobbs, RJ; Higgs, E; Aronson, J. 2006. Ecological restoration and global climate change. RESTORATION ECOLOGY 14 (2): 170-176.
• This paper dives into more detail on the “temporal change” touched on in the previous paper. It argues that restoring ecosystems to historic functioning is unlikely to be easy, or possible, in the changed biophysical conditions of the future.
Suding, KN; Gross, KL; Houseman, GR Alternative states and positive feedbacks in restoration ecology TRENDS IN ECOLOGY & EVOLUTION, 19 (1): 46-53 JAN 2004.
• Extending the argument laid out in, “Approximating nature’s variation: Selecting and using reference information in restoration ecology”, this paper points out that feedbacks between biotic factors and the physical environment makes some degraded ecosystems resilient to restoration to previous states. It goes on to argue for models of alternative ecosystem states that incorporate system thresholds and feedbacks as a guide for identifying, prioritizing and addressing these system constraints.
Funk, JL; Cleland, EE; Suding, KN; Zavaleta, ES. Restoration through reassembly: plant traits and invasion resistance. TRENDS IN ECOLOGY & EVOLUTION 23 (12):695-703. 2008.
• While the previous paper notes the resilience of degraded ecosystems against successful restoration, this paper introduces a new strategy for enhancing the resilience of restored ecosystems against future degradation. It argues that restoration projects should develop native plant communities that are resistant to exotic invasion by selecting communities with traits similar to likely invaders.
Norgaard, RB; Kallis, G; Kiparsky, M. Collectively engaging complex socio-ecological systems: re-envisioning science, governance, and the California Delta ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & POLICY, 12 (6): 644-652 Sp. Iss. SI OCT 2009
• It is critical that scientific knowledge be the foundation of restoration efforts, but practitioners cannot ignore the plethora of project stakeholders in defining restoration scope and goals, particularly where adaptive management is necessary. This paper lays out the coevolutionary process between science, governance and ecosystems and highlights the importance of understanding complex, dynamic socio-ecological systems in managing ecosystems for multiple purposes.
Norgaard, RB. Ecosystem services: From eye-opening metaphor to complexity blinder
ECOLOGICAL ECONOMICS, 69 (6): 1219-1227 APR 1 2010
• Payments for ecosystem services are a prime example of the importance of understanding “socio-ecological systems” to the field of restoration ecology. The metaphor of nature as a stock that provides a flow of services is a reductionist idea that ignores the richness of ecological understanding of complex ecosystems and, without proper awareness, may lead to restoration projects that further degrade ecosystems.

Restoration ecology is garnering increasing attention as a field that can help reverse widespread, and increasing, environmental degradation. These 10 papers challenge traditional definitions of “restoration” by proposing innovative project objectives, highlighting the valuable contributions ecological understanding can contribute to project successes, and pointing out the field’s research needs and limits.

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