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Keywords:

  • ecological restoration;
  • ecosystem function;
  • forest restoration;
  • Hawaii;
  • landscape restoration;
  • restoration practice;
  • restoration science;
  • tropical dry forest

Abstract

Cabin (2007) asks whether formal science is an effective framework and methodology for designing and implementing ecological restoration programs. He argues that beyond certain ancillary benefits, restoration science has little of practical value to offer the practice of restoration. He goes on to suggest that restoration science most often represents an impediment to restoration practice because an “ivory tower” mentality limits the utility of experiments and diverts research dollars away from answering practical questions. His conclusion is that a nonscientific gardening approach may be more effective at restoring degraded ecosystems. We disagree with this perspective because: (1) restoration science has moved beyond exclusively using “square grids” placed on small patches of land to examine treatment effects on species representation; (2) Cabin’s critique greatly undervalues the contribution of science to restoration practice even where the input of restoration scientists is not directly evident; and (3) the practice of restoration is unlikely to advance beyond small-scale and truly haphazard successes without well-designed studies that can provide peer-reviewed and widely accessible published information on the mechanisms underlying both successes and failures. We conclude that through integration with other disciplines, restoration science increasingly will provide novel approaches and tools needed to restore ecosystem composition, structure, and function at stand to landscape scales. As with the broader role of science in the human enterprise (Sagan 1996), the contribution of restoration science to restoration practice can only grow as the discipline matures.