Restoration Ecology and the Ecosystem Perspective



The ecosystem perspective provides a framework within which most other aspects of the ecology of restoration can be incorporated. By considering the ecosystem functions of a restoration project, the restorationist is forced to consider the placement of the project in the landscape—its boundaries, its connections or lack thereof to adjoining ecosystems, and its receipts and losses of materials and energy from its physical surroundings. These characteristics may set limits on the kind(s) of biotic communities that can be created on the site. The ecosystem perspective also gives restorationists conceptual tools for structuring and evaluating restorations. These include the mass balance approach to nutrient, pollutant, and energy budgets; subsidy/stress effects of inputs; food web architecture; feedback among ecosystem components; efficiency of nutrient transfers, primary productivity and decomposition as system-determining rates; and disturbance regimes. However, there are many uncertainties concerning these concepts, their relation to each other, and their relationships to population- and community-level phenomena. The nature of restoration projects provides a unique opportunity for research on these problems; the large spatial scale of restorations and the freedom to manipulate species, soil, water, and even the landscape could allow ecosystem-level experiments to be conducted that could not be performed otherwise.