Restoration of Terrestrial Communities


Restoration aims to return ecosystems that have been altered by humans to states similar to unaltered systems in terms of dominant vegetation, energy flows, water capture and nutrient cycling. General themes in restoration include the degree of alteration, setting goals for the restoration, incorporating evaluation of progress, and methods for ameliorating soil and returning vegetation. A major challenge in many systems is creating vegetation with desirable species composition and richness, as opposed to low‚Äźdiversity stands of exotic species. Socioeconomic factors may have overriding influences on restoration strategies. Opportunities for advancement include replication of restorations among years to incorporate variation in weather, and reporting of more outcomes, including negative results. Restoration is a field ripe for research, both in the synthesis of applied knowledge and as a system for experimentally addressing a broad variety of ecological topics.

Key Concepts

  • Restoration aims to return ecosystems that have been altered by humans to states similar to unaltered systems, typically enhancing both biodiversity and ecosystem services.
  • Goals for restoration should be specified during the planning phase. The goal for restoration is primarily a socioeconomic question, dependent on community wishes and available resources.
  • Economic benefits from restoration are tangible but limited, so other benefits must be clear.
  • Restoration using exotic species is common, because of increased demand for ecosystem services and increased ubiquity of exotic species.
  • Exotic species can rapidly produce novel stable communities. Consequently, the endpoint of one restoration (an exotic, economically productive community) may be the starting point of another restoration to eliminate these species and restore native communities and enhance diversity.
  • Mine spoils may require chemical amelioration to reduce acidity or heavy metals. Soil organic matter often needs to be increased on severely altered sites, but in other cases needs to be decreased.
  • Propagules of desired species usually need to be added, as seeds, transplants, turves or hay.
  • Continuing evaluation and management is often required to aid succession in moving towards the goals.

Keywords: disturbance; ecosystem; restoration; soil; vegetation

Figure 1. An abandoned field (dark green) planted with an exotic grass, Agropyron cristatum (crested wheatgrass), in southwestern Saskatchewan, Canada. The field is surrounded by native grassland (light brown) and lies within a national park. The field has been restored for economic productivity but has low diversity and plant and animal communities that differ greatly from native vegetation.


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Further Reading

Bainbridge DA (2012) A Guide for Desert and Dryland Restoration: New Hope for Arid Lands. Washington: Island press.

Comín FA (2010) Ecological Restoration: A Global Challenge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Doyle M and Drew C (2012) Large‐Scale Ecosystem Restoration: Five Case Studies from the United States. Washington: Island Press.

Elliot S, Blakesley D and Hardwick K (2013) Restoring Tropical Forests: A Practical Guide. Surrey: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Falk DA, Palmer MA and Zedler JB (2013) Foundations of Restoration Ecology. Washington: Island Press.

Glass SB, Howell EA and Harrington JA (2011) Introduction to Restoration Ecology. Washington: Island Press.

Keenelyside K, Dudley N, Cairns S, et al. (2012) Ecological Restoration for Protected Areas: Principles, Guidelines and Best Practices. Switzerland: IUCN.

Maginnis S, Rietbergen‐McCracken J and Sarre A (2012) The Forest Landscape Restoration Handbook. London: Routledge.

Maschinski J and Haskins KE (2012) Plant Reintroduction in a Changing Climate: Promises and Perils. Washington: Island Press.

Van Andel J and Aronson J (2012) Restoration Ecology: The New Frontier. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

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Wilson, Scott D(Aug 2016) Restoration of Terrestrial Communities. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0020469.pub2]