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Science-Driven Restoration: A Square Grid on a Round Earth?


Address correspondence to R. J. Cabin, email


Is formal science necessarily an effective framework and methodology for designing and implementing ecological restoration programs? My experience as an ecologist in Hawaii suggests that even when scientific research programs are explicitly designed to guide and facilitate restoration, the culture of science, heterogeneity of nature, and real-world complexities of implementing land management practices often limit the practical relevance of conventional scientific research. Although alternative models such as adaptive management and transdisciplinary science may facilitate research that more robustly models the real world, there is often little professional support or incentive to orient even these nonconventional research approaches toward actually solving on-the-ground problems. Thus, if one’s goal is to accomplish ecological restoration as quickly and efficiently as possible, a trial-and-error/intelligent tinkering–type approach might often be better than using more rigorous, data-intensive scientific methodology. However, the sympatric implementation of ecological restoration and scientific research programs can lead to valuable synergies such as mutual logistical and financial support and the exchange of distinct forms of knowledge. The professional activities and mere presence of scientists can also greatly enhance a program’s prestige and visibility, which in turn can indirectly promote more and better ecological restoration. Improving our understanding of when formal science can directly assist restoration projects and when its value will more likely be synergistic and indirect could lead to better science, better ecological restoration, and better relationships between these two cultures.