Towards a Conceptual Framework for Restoration Ecology

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Abstract

Heightening human impacts on the Earth result in widespread losses of production and conservation values and make large-scale ecosystem restoration increasingly urgent. Tackling this problem requires the development of general guiding principles for restoration so that we can move away from the ad hoc, site- and situation-specific approach that now prevails. A continuum of restoration efforts can be recognized, ranging from restoration of localized highly degraded sites to restoration of entire landscapes for production and/or conservation reasons. We emphasize the importance of developing restoration methodologies that are applicable at the landscape scale. Key processes in restoration include identifying and dealing with the processes leading to degradation in the first place, determining realistic goals and measures of success, developing methods for implementing the goals and incorporating them into land-management and planning strategies, and monitoring the restoration and assessing its success. Few of these procedures are currently incorporated in many restoration projects. The concept that many ecosystems are likely to exist in alternative stable states, depending on their history, is relevant to the setting of restoration goals. A range of measures, such as those being developed to measure ecosystem health, could be used to develop “scorecards” for restoration efforts. Generalizable guidelines for restoration on individual sites could be based on the concepts of designed disturbance, controlled colonization, and controlled species performance. Fewer explicit guidelines are available at the landscape scale, beyond nonquantitative generalities about size and connectivity. Development of these guidelines is an important priority so that urgent large-scale restoration can be planned and implemented effectively.

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