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Restoration Ecology: Principles

  1. John Cairns Jr

Published Online: 16 JUN 2014

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0020468.pub2



How to Cite

Cairns, J. 2014. Restoration Ecology: Principles. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 16 JUN 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 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.


  • ecological restoration;
  • restoration ecology;
  • natural resource repair;
  • assessing restoration success;
  • restoration planning checklist;
  • planetary state shift