Restoration Ecology: Principles
John Cairns, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA
Published online: June 2014
Restoration is defined as natural resource repair of an ecosystem which has been disturbed or damaged. The ecosystem is restored
as closely as possible to its condition prior to the damage or disturbance (U. S. Research Council, 1992, p. 18). Both the
structure and the functions of the ecosystem are recreated. Merely recreating the form without the functions, or the functions
in an artificial configuration bearing little resemblance to a natural resource, does not constitute restoration. The goal
is to emulate a natural, functioning, self‐regulating system that is integrated with the ecological landscape in which it
A major new issue for restoration ecology is the increased probability that a planetary state shift is in progress or likely
to occur. A planetary state shift produces major alterations in the biosphere, resulting from major shifts in physical and
chemical conditions. Restoration to predisturbance condition becomes increasingly improbable on such a major scale.
Ecological restoration to predisturbance condition, or an approximation thereof, is possible.
Restoration should include both structure and function.
At present, ecological damage markedly exceeds ecological repair.
The goal of restoration is to emulate a natural, functioning, self‐regulating system that is integrated with the ecological
landscape in which it occurs.
Biological, physical and chemical monitoring are essential to determine if pre‐existing quality conditions have been met.
A team qualified to take remedial action must be in place to take action if monitoring shows that quality control conditions
are not being met.
A restoration project must include a specific project mission, goals and objectives and a schematic restoration scenario.
Restoring to predisturbance condition may not be possible due to climate change, so a constructed ecosystem may be the alternative.
If a self‐maintaining system cannot be achieved, subsidies may be essential.
Restoration projects are never risk free, so attention should be given to the reasons that projects fail.
Keywords: ecological restoration; restoration ecology; natural resource repair; assessing restoration success; restoration planning checklist; planetary state shift
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