Top Ten Restoration Ecology Papers for Designers

There is a growing trend in the field of landscape architecture to incorporate ‘ecological’ or ‘restoration’ principles in the design of public spaces and landscapes. While we certainly support this shift towards ecological-based design, we think there is a general lack of knowledge of ecology upon which some of these designs are based. Often, a designed and restored landscape is used to substitute for an intact ecosystem that was displaced by development. The new design is often celebrated for recreating destroyed habitat, replacing ecosystem function, etc. Adequate follow-up studies, however, are very rarely, if ever, used to determine the actual efficacy of this designed environment in meeting any of the proposed restoration goals.

We used our top-ten list as an opportunity to present a list of papers that would in effect humble designers. Because of the costs involved in these designed ecosystems (economic, ecological and social) we feel that it is imperative that such actors know the reality and complexities behind the projects they support and propose. Simply drawing lines on a page that create wetland habitat and tidal marsh habitat is not enough. Practicing landscape architects and designers must, at the very least, improve their knowledge of the complexities inherent in ecological restoration, and be willing to think critically about the underlying roots of the marriage between landscape architecture and ecological restoration. To that end, we’ve put together a list of the top ten papers that every designer should read:

Note: we did not include in our list the social implications inherent in restoration as we believe that most designers already have knowledge of social factors, and yet for those that don’t, it is another topic worthy of an equally extensive review.

Hobbs, R J, Harris, J A. 2001. Restoration Ecology: Repairing the Earth’s Ecosystems in the New Millennium. Restoration Ecology 9(2): 239-246

Introduces the idea of restoration ecology and highlights the importance of using criteria to develop a restoration plan and the use of post restoration studies to judge success.

Hobbs, RJ; Higgs, E; Harris, JA. 2009. Novel ecosystems: implications for conservation and restoration. TRENDS IN ECOLOGY & EVOLUTION 24( 11): 599-605.

Important in that it questions the logic of restoring back to a previous state, which we think is illogical in many instances, but dangerous in that it might be seen by designers as a green light to create new landscapes not based on ecology.

Palmer, M. A. (2009). Reforming watershed restoration: science in need of application and applications in need of science. Estuaries and Coasts, 32, 1–17.

Critiques a number of practices being used today that are ineffective and calls for the incorporation of informed ecology into restoration.

Jackson, S. T., and R. J. Hobbs. 2009. Ecological Restoration in the Light of Ecological History. Science 325:567-569.

Highlights the need for restoration practitioners to consider restoration goals through multiple lenses. The idea that restoration must consider history, but must also be grounded in a forward-looking approach that considers variability and climate change is extremely important.

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

Since designers are often brought into projects that have received funding through environmental markets, it’s imperative that we understand the inherent risks and limitations associated with restoration. Without this understanding, we run the risk of “restoring ecosystem services” only on paper, with no real-world benefit, after millions of dollars have been spent.

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.

An important paper that questions the socio-political context in which adaptive co-management (or restoration) occurs. Informed designers need to be aware of who they are restoring for, and how this affects marginalized populations.

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

An important perspective from outside the paradigm of capitalism. Viewing ecological and social problems from all viewpoints is essential for a complete understanding of the issues.

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

Illustrates the basics and the inherent difficulties in one brand of market-based restoration. These complexities need to be much better understood by those involved in restoration based on ecosystem services.

Peter W. Dunwiddie, Sonia A. Hall, et al. 2009. Rethinking Conservation Practice in Light of Climate Change. Ecological Restoration 27:3

This is an on-the-ground look at what some agencies are doing to restore ecosystems in the specter of climate change. Case studies and the logic behind the projects offer new ways of looking at such problems.

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.

This is an excellent introduction to the idea of restoring landscapes based on the concept of ecosystem services that also cautions designers about the complexity of ecosystem services. It’s important in that it provides a possible framework to guide future restoration projects, but also discusses the potential pitfalls associated with this landscape valuation.

Funk, JL; Cleland, EE; Suding, KN; Zavaleta, ES. 2008. Restoration through reassembly: plant traits and invasion resistance. TRENDS IN ECOLOGY & EVOLUTION 23 (12):695-703.

This paper gives readers an idea about the truly complex nature of the invasive-native relationship, while also introducing ecological theory in an accessible way. It also highlights a method for preventing the spread of invasive species through a designed landscape.

by Alex Schuknecht & Rob Tidmore


  1. I really liked your objective with this list... it really calls into question who the list is for. If this list eventually makes it into a journal, how do we make sure the 'right' people are reading it?

    My impression from class this semester is that restoration practitioners need to have more ecology, ecologists need to have more social science, and we all need to think about the values underlying what we are restoring and why. I think when we wrote our list we were probably aiming it more at ecologists. But one thing we've learned here that all the science in the world won't help if people on the ground don't know about it and understand it. And it also won't help if the overall political climate prevents needed paradigm shifts. Do policymakers and architects read journals like Restoration Ecology? Or do mostly ecologists read it? Just thinking outside the box. :)

  2. Bravo! I love your opening statement, and wholeheartedly agree! This list should be required reading for our 201 class, many of our fellow designers (and teachers) could benefit for this. However, despite all of our reading, the complexity of some ecological systems and designs, would also require direct consultation with ecologists.

  3. Very glad to have this subject addressed, and this list!

    In my comments to Gustavo's post, I brought up the benefit of conceiving of some urban remediation work by designers, architects, and landscape architects as novel ecological systems. That is,'interventions' that might be part of a project - even if not a classic restoration - could be based on an understanding that complex novel systems could deliver beneficial ecological services.

    Many forward-thinking competitions and forward-thinking designers already make claims in this direction, but without the scientific rigor. How do we begin to get this dimension into the design fields? Or even into CED?

    How does the field of restoration ecology reach these design professions?

  4. Absolutely. Your framing of your criteria for the selection of your Top 10 is perfect. Have you considered how you might disseminate the list to the UCB LAEP MLA list/have it incorporated in the LA251 Theories curriculum?

    Your framing also calls to mind, for me, the need for ecologists to think of the communication principals inherent in design, and how greater collaboration on this could help the overall movement of restoration. I am thinking of the patch of grassland at the UCB Richmond Station. Many people would see that area as a wasteland, particularly when there is little knowledge about the dormant period, that needs to be converted to a use for the pressing urban population. Of course the next thought is to that of funding for this interface to occur...and so on to the next thought...