Book Review: Restoration Ecology and Sustainable Development

K.M. Urbanska, N.R. Webb & P.J. Edwards (eds) (1988)

Pp xv+397. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 0-521-58160-5. Price £55 (hardback).

The first sentence of this book is both shocking and depressing –‘The problem of ecosystem damage is international, and probably no country in the world is unaffected.’Restoration Ecology and Sustainable Development is written on the basis that the discipline of restoration ecology aims to provide a scientifically sound basis for the reconstruction of degraded and destroyed ecosystems, and to produce self-supporting systems which are, to some degree, resilient to subsequent damage.

The book is based on peer-reviewed invited papers presented at the First International Conference on Restoration Ecology and Sustainable Development held in Zurich in 1996 under the patronage of the European Ecological Foundation. The problems of restoration are not solely European, the contributions are drawn from the United States, Australia and Iceland, in addition to those from mainland Europe. However, there are no contributions from developing countries. The book comprises five parts, of which the first is the Introduction containing two chapters. The first chapter is an introductory one by the book’s editors, and the second called ‘What do we mean by restoration?’ by A. D. Bradshaw includes helpful definitions of words in common use in restoration ecology; for example, restoration, rehabilitation, remediation, reclamation, replacement, enhancement and mitigation.

The second part of the book, ‘Ecological basis of restoration’, contains six very different chapters. V. T. Parker & S. T. A. Pickett write that restoration ecology will benefit from the current broad perspective of the ecosystem as open and dynamic, incorporating humans and their effects, and being ‘in flux’ rather than ‘in balance’. Chapters 4 and 5 concern the importance of soil ecology in restoration science. In a very readable chapter aided by clear explanatory figures of primary data, Bradshaw shows that for restoration from the viewpoint of a functioning ecosystem, it is soil which is the key. If the soil is destroyed or degraded, scope for plant growth and ecosystem regeneration is much more bleak. Developing the theme further, K. Haselwandter concentrates on the relevance of mycorrhizal fungi to restoration ecology. I particularly enjoyed Chapter 6 ‘Safe sites – interface of population ecology and restoration ecology’ by K. M. Urbanska because the author develops thoughtful new hypotheses based on how her studies fit in with ecological theories, a great deal of primary data plus four colour photographs of arctic and alpine ‘nurse’ plant environments are included, and she emphasizes the benefits of commensalism both in plant communities and for different human specialists in restoration. The first part of the book closes with a chapter on plant–animal mutualisms in pollination and propagule dispersal by S. N. Handel, and a chapter by N. R. Webb where a ‘landscape approach to ecological restoration’ is developed using the Dorset heathlands as an excellent example.

A large part of the remainder of Restoration Ecology and Sustainable Development consists of ‘Part III The implementation and assessment of restoration schemes’. These chapters detail a wide variety of specific approaches to restoration from diverse geographical areas, particularly in ‘fragile’ ecosystems. The majority of studies demonstrate successful attempts at restoration. An example is provided by J. C. Chambers who includes information on restoration success in severely disturbed mine sites at the tree line in an alpine ecosystem in the Beartooth Mountains, Montana, USA. The author also has interesting comments and colour pictorial evidence on the benefits and demerits of using graminoids and fertilizer applications for restoration in alpine environments. Extremely successful restoration and creation of tidal wetlands along the east coast of North America are reported by W. A. Niering. J. D. Majer shows how invertebrates both engineer and indicate restoration success, with particular reference to ants in mine sites in Western Australia.

Another theme is the conflict of several desired end-points, or goals, of restoration. S. H. Magnússon, in a fascinating chapter on restoration of eroded areas in Iceland, shows how by using a native species Leymus arenarius, seeding of grasses in combination with fertilizer applications, and introducing exotic plant species, especially Lupinus nootkatensis, successful revegetation of eroded areas has resulted. There is now, however, a growing concern about the considerable effect of the lupin which can displace the native vegetation and change the structure and function of ecosystems, and thus there is incomplete reconciliation of revegetation and true restoration. The conflict between restoring ecosystems to create habitats to target endangered species, versus the formation of self-sustaining resilient ecosystems is highlighted by K. S. Williams in a study of terrestrial invertebrates in riparian and coastal wetlands in Southern California. Similarly, J. P. Bakker et al. comment on the options of ‘wilderness’ or ‘biodiversity’ for restoration and management of coastal salt marshes in the European Lowlands. A further theme is that often little is known about soil communities and processes (e.g. Chambers, Majer), and that their recovery may be slow compared to vegetation (Niering).

‘Part IV: Ecological restoration, economics and sustainability’, consists of a chapter by P. J. Edwards & C. Abivardi on the financial implications of restoration, and a chapter on the philosophy of ecological restoration, particularly with regard to society in general, by M. J. Clark. Edwards & Abivardi make several interesting points, including that often, and especially in the developing world, the cost of restoration far exceeds the financial value of restored land, that ‘ecosystem services’ should be financially valued to try to offset the high costs of restoration, and that ‘restoration is usually not something which can be left to a free market . . . to ensure that society obtains the full benefits . . .’. Finally, Restoration Ecology and Sustainable Development ends in Part V: Conclusions by P. J. Edwards et al. The authors draw conclusions on the importance of science, technology and society in restoration ecology, and make a plea for more postgraduate courses in the discipline.

In summary, there is much diverse and extremely useful information here for ecologists, especially as ‘There is probably no aspect of ecological research which is irrelevant to the restoration of ecosystems’ (Edwards et al. p. 382). Restoration Ecology and Sustainable Development is also an important read for professionals in ecological restoration and in environmental engineering.

Clare H. Robinson