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People as Ecological Participants in Ecological Restoration


Address correspondence to S. M. Burke, email


In 1987, Bradshaw proposed that ecological restoration is the ultimate “acid test” of our understanding the functioning of ecosystems (Bradshaw 1987). Although this concept is widely supported academically, how it can be applied by restoration practitioners is still unclear. This is an issue not limited to Bradshaw’s acid test, but moreover, reflects a general difficulty associated with the polarization between conceptual restoration (restoration ecology) and practical restoration (ecological restoration), where each has functioned to certain degree in isolation of the other. Outside of the more obvious pragmatic reasons for the relative independence between ecological restoration and restoration ecology, we propose that a more contentious explanation is that the approach taken toward understanding ecosystem development in restoration ecology is tangential to what actually takes place in ecological restoration. Current paradigms assume that the process of ecosystem development in restoration should follow the developmental trajectories suggested by classical ecological succession models. However, unlike these models, ecosystem development in restoration is, at least initially, largely manipulated by people, rather than by abiotic and biotic forces alone. There has been little research undertaken to explore how restoration activities impact upon or add to the extant ecological processes operating within a restoration site. Consequently, ecological restoration may not be so much an acid test of our understanding the functioning of ecosystems, but rather, an acid test of our understanding mutually beneficial interactions between humans and ecosystems.