Restoration Ecology: Principles


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 occurs.

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.

Key Concepts:

  • 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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U. S. National Research Council, 1992 Restoration of Aquatic Ecosystems: Science, Technology, and Public Policy. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. (Reprinted with permission from the National Academy Press – The three checklists in the categories of project planning and design, during restoration, and postrestoration are taken from pp. 57–58).

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Further Reading

Aronson J and van Andel J (eds) (2005) Restoration Ecology: The New Frontier. London, UK: Oxford.

Barnosky AD, Hadley EA, Bascompte J et al. (2012) Approaching a state shift in Earth's biosphere. Nature 486: 52–58.

Beattie A and Ehrlich PR (2013) De‐extinction: moral hazard writ large. November 14, University of Technology Sydney and the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. (accessed 30.04.14).

Bradshaw AD (1988) Alternative endpoints for reclamation. In: Cairns J Jr (ed.) Rehabilitating Damaged Ecosystems, vol. 2, pp. 69–85. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Cairns J Jr (2006) Ecological restoration in an era of ecological disequilibrium. Asian Journal of Experimental Sciences 20(1): 1–6.

Cairns J Jr (2007) The role of constructed ecosystems in an era of rapid climate change. Asian Journal of Experimental Sciences 21(1): 1–12.

Cairns J Jr (2011) Earth's Biosphere in Peril.

Cairns J Jr (2013) Integrated environmental assessment and management during a planetary state shift. Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management 9(4): 673–674.

Ehrlich PR and Ehrlich AH (2013) Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided? Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 280: 2012–2845.

Falk DA, Palmer MA and Zedler JB (2006) Foundations of Restoration Ecology: The Science and Practice of Ecological Restoration. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Perrow MR and Davy AJ (eds) (2006) Handbook of Ecological Restoration. Vol. 1. Principles of Restoration. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Temperton VM, Hobbs RJ, Nuttle T and Halle S (eds) (2004) Assembly Rules and Restoration Ecology: Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Practice. Washington, DC: Island Press.

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Cairns, John(Jun 2014) Restoration Ecology: Principles. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0020468.pub2]