Restoration Ecology Comes of Age
Version of Record online: 21 MAR 2013
© 2013 Society for Conservation Biology
Volume 27, Issue 2, pages 433–435, April 2013
How to Cite
Gonzales, E. (2013), Restoration Ecology Comes of Age. Conservation Biology, 27: 433–435. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12033
- Issue online: 21 MAR 2013
- Version of Record online: 21 MAR 2013
Introduction to Restoration Ecology. Howell, E. A., J. A. Harrington, and S. B. Glass. 2012. Island Press, Washington, D.C. 436 pp. $90 (hardcover). ISBN-13: 978-1597261890.
Restoration Ecology: The New Frontier. van Andel, J., and J. Aronson, editors. 2012. 2nd edition. Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex, U.K. 400 pp. $90 (paperback). ISBN-13: 978-1444336368.
Restoration ecology can no longer be described as a young discipline; it is a rapidly growing field entering its adolescence. However, like many teenagers, restoration ecology is still seeking its identity. In the past decade, the paradigm of restoration ecology has shifted from reference to resilience. That is, ecosystem restoration goals initially focused on a historical reference state, whereas today restoration ecologists aim for resilience so that ecosystems can withstand the shocks of degradation without shifting to alternative states. Three epiphanies characterize the maturation of restoration ecology: an appreciation for transdisciplinarity, interdisciplinary problem solving, which requires the transcendence of science, social science, and nonacademic culture and language; acknowledgment of the importance of stakeholder engagement in restoration projects, whereby humans are the problem solvers, not just the problem; and realization of the need for adaptive management to advance understanding and cope with the uncertainties of changes in climate, land use, and species assemblages. Two recently released texts, Introduction to Restoration Ecology and Restoration Ecology: The New Frontier (2nd edition) provide a modern treatment of the field.
Introduction to Restoration Ecology is targeted at students and professionals from disciplines such as land-use planning and natural resource management. The authors are from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM) and the UWM Arboretum and have extensive experience as instructors and practitioners of restoration. The text has a colorful, appealing layout and few typographical errors. Illustrative photos, many contributed by Harrington, are coupled with case studies. Chapters include ecological theory, pest species, user impacts, working with people, and eight chapters related to planning.
The authors use the technique of engaged pedagogy, inviting readers to think actively while learning the material. Chapters begin with learning objectives and end with key concepts and food for thought to test understanding. Case studies and sidebars are peppered throughout the text to reinforce concepts with real-life examples. Perhaps the most innovative element is the YouTube videos that demonstrate restoration techniques (http://www.youtube.com/user/RestorationEcology/). The six videos posted to date illustrate girdling, herbicide application, and prescribed fire, and the active demonstration of these techniques is a powerful teaching tool and an intriguing advancement for teaching restoration ecology, particularly for the increasing number of courses offered in a distance or on-line format.
The relaxed tone of Introduction to Restoration Ecology is well suited for an undergraduate class, although some sections may be too elementary and others are too casual in tone. For example, the chapter “Working with People” included a sidebar with the questions “How do you define teamwork?” and “What are the qualities of a good teammate?” An example drawn from the social sciences, such as cross-cultural or aboriginal perspectives on restoration, would have provided a more interesting and informative sidebar. For some of the case studies, the project leader is referred to by her first name only (e.g., Rebecca [p. 91]), whereas for others a title is used (e.g., Dr. Kline [p. 330]). Consistency in this matter would remove implications that there is a hierarchy among practitioners and researchers.
Given the attractive structure and attention to pedagogy, I considered using this text for my Restoration Ecology course, but there is a distinct lack of ecology in Introduction to Restoration Ecology. Of the 15 chapters, only one is dedicated to the ecological underpinnings of restoration ecology (e.g., community and landscape ecology). I also considered (not reviewed here) using Foundations of Restoration Ecology (Falk et al. 2006), which presents the converse situation. Foundations provides a comprehensive overview of ecological theories relevant to restoration, but lacks the elements of planning and human dimensions. The material is also now dated given how far restoration ecology has advanced in the past 6 years. The search to find a fresh and transdisciplinary text for my course led me to the second edition of Restoration Ecology: The New Frontier.
The first edition of New Frontier was the first university-level textbook on restoration (van Andel & Aronson 2006). The second edition is a four-part book “designed for senior undergraduate and graduate-level courses in applied ecology, environmental studies, conservation and development.” Although ostensibly targeted at the same audience as Introduction to Restoration Ecology, New Frontier has the stronger academic foundation. The second edition addresses the transdisciplinarity of restoration ecology and is as current as possible without going straight to peer-reviewed articles. There are 44 pages of references, in stark contrast to six pages in Introduction to Restoration Ecology. Part 1 introduces terminology, the major themes of the text, and ends with a nod to planning and implementation. Part 2 is dedicated to ecological foundations—landscape ecology, ecosystems, community and population ecology, and reintroductions. Part 3 summarizes experiences and lessons from 11 different biomes around the world. Part 4 looks forward and contains discussions on biological invasions, resilience, shifting baselines, and sustainability science.
Edited volumes can be uneven and repetitive, but Restoration Ecology: The New Frontier is generally consistent; the editors contributed to nearly half of the conceptual chapters. The unevenness is most evident in Part 3. For example, “Restoration of Rivers and Floodplains” provides only a high-level summary of river restoration in Europe, whereas “Restoration of Freshwater Lakes” reviews the scientific literature, cites restoration examples throughout Europe, and advises on planning and practical restoration. There are also some redundancies in Parts 1, 2, and 4 that could be streamlined.
Overall the writing is articulate, but dense, and it will challenge those less familiar with academic writing. I found more typographical errors than I expected in a second edition. New Frontier is typical of edited scientific volumes in that it does not use pedagogical techniques to stimulate active thought. There is a companion website to the text with figures and tables from the book, but no additional content. The layout and figures are perfunctory and look dated. Gurevitch et al.'s (2006) The Ecology of Plants (not reviewed here) has far superior illustrations of some topics covered by both New Frontier and Introduction to Restoration Ecology.
Transdisciplinarity is both the boon and bane of restoration ecology; it can be challenging to be comprehensive yet concise and clear. New Frontier achieves transdisiplinarity by going beyond the definitions of terms and to their etymology. New Frontier is comprehensive in its treatment of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, whereas many texts (and the field of ecology itself) tend to be weighted toward terrestrial ecology. Restoration ecology has traditionally had a botanical focus, whereas New Frontier includes concepts and case studies drawn from zoology. The examples are also drawn from around the world, unlike the Wisconsin and North American centricism of Introduction to Restoration Ecology.
Introduction to Restoration Ecology may appear to be the more applied book, but New Frontier may actually be more pragmatic. Introduction to Restoration Ecology does not discuss budgeting for projects or that sometimes more expensive methods can be more efficient if they are effective. In New Frontier, “Restoration of Arid and Semi-arid lands” addresses the socioeconomic, administrative, and ecological factors that cause desertification, methods to engage stakeholders, and the realities of funding restoration in the southern United States and Mexico. Box 10.1 from that chapter features a restoration-project chronology that includes the project goal, key equipment to purchase, standardized assessments, ideas for restoration-related business opportunities to benefit the local community, and a celebratory event to improve interactions among stakeholders. Both books would have benefited from a section on decision-support tools.
I had high hopes for Introduction to Restoration Ecology. It is one of the first textbooks in restoration ecology to apply engaging pedagogy with high production values. The volume provides exhaustive detail on the planning process, but it lacks the ecological concepts and quantitative tools that will advance the field. One problem, for example, is that Introduction to Restoration Ecology emphasizes that sites are unique. Although a cookbook approach to restoration (sensu Hilderbrand et al. 2005) in which with the expectation of a predictable outcome is flawed, some level of synthesis and biome-level generalizations are needed to avoid ad hoc trial-and-error restoration. In contrast, New Frontier presents case studies by biome. Each chapter addresses the ecological processes, key issues, commonly used techniques, and restoration efforts for that biome. New Frontier also confronts uncertainty in ecological outcomes through adaptive management (a structured, iterative process of reducing uncertainty through management trials, modeling, and monitoring). When applied in this way (rather than unstructured trial and error that is sometimes misinterpreted as adaptive management), the results of adaptive management improve restoration practices.
These two books make a valuable contribution to the field, but much like restoration ecology itself, they are still maturing. In its present form, Restoration Ecology: The New Frontier is the more resilient text because it is more forward looking and comprehensive. Introduction to Restoration Ecology is well designed with an innovative and refreshing presentation of the material. With improved ecological content, quantitative tools, and attention to formal adaptive management, Introduction to Restoration Ecology has the potential to mature into the lead text for the field.
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