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Are Socioeconomic Benefits of Restoration Adequately Quantified? A Meta-analysis of Recent Papers (2000–2008) in Restoration Ecology and 12 Other Scientific Journals


J. Aronson, email


Many ecosystems have been transformed, or degraded by human use, and restoration offers an opportunity to recover services and benefits, not to mention intrinsic values. We assessed whether restoration scientists and practitioners use their projects to demonstrate the benefits restoration can provide in their peer-reviewed publications. We evaluated a sample of the academic literature to determine whether links are made explicit between ecological restoration, society, and public policy related to natural capital. We analyzed 1,582 peer-reviewed papers dealing with ecological restoration published between 1 January 2000 and 30 September 2008 in 13 leading scientific journals. As selection criterion, we considered papers that contained either “restoration” or “rehabilitation” in their title, abstract, or keywords. Furthermore, as one-third of the papers were published in Restoration Ecology, we used that journal as a reference for comparison with all the other journals. We readily acknowledge that aquatic ecosystems are under-represented, and that the largely inaccessible gray literature was ignored. Within these constraints, we found clear evidence that restoration practitioners are failing to signal links between ecological restoration, society, and policy, and are underselling the evidence of benefits of restoration as a worthwhile investment for society. We discuss this assertion and illustrate it with samples of our findings—with regards to (1) the geographical and institutional affiliations of authors; (2) the choice of ecosystems studied, methods employed, monitoring schemes applied, and the spatial scale of studies; and (3) weak links to payments for ecosystem service setups, agriculture, and ramifications for public policy.