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What is Restoration?

Restoration Ecology vs. Ecological Restoration

Restoration ecology is the scientific study that supports the practice of ecological restoration — assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed.

The earth’s ecosystems support the functions upon which humans depend for survival, including functions that provide water, food, and breathable air. Unfortunately, centuries of unsustainable activities have damaged terrestrial, aquatic, and marine ecosystems. The field of restoration ecology assumes that solutions exist to improve the health and functioning of ecosystems that have been damaged by human activities. While conservation biology seeks to minimize permanent habitat and species losses, restoration ecology aims to improve health and functions of natural systems and to foster the future of habitats and populations in the face of environmental change.

Montage photo of a trail, soil, and people working on Project Stream

The Age of Restoration

There can be no purpose more enspiriting than to begin the age of restoration, reweaving the wondrous diversity of life that still surrounds us . . . The next century will, I believe, be the era of restoration in ecology. —E.O. Wilson

Restoration is a young field

Billions of dollars are spent every year restoring millions of hectares in the United States and around the world, but the field of restoration ecology is young and only just beginning to investigate essential questions such as:

  • What ecological principles should guide restoration, how can we assess efficacy, and what can we learn about ecosystems from restoration sites? (the science of restoration)
  • What techniques can we use to restore ecosystems that meet functional goals within acceptable timeframes? (the practice of restoration)
  • How do the processes and products of ecosystem restoration affect humans, and how can we include people from all sectors of society to improve the efficacy and success of restoration projects? (the human dimension of restoration)

Guidelines for Restoration Practice

  • Prioritize process-based restoration
  • Identify and address limiting factors or stressors in the ecosystem
  • Increase ecosystem complexity
  • Focus on restoration trajectories, rather than end-points
  • Strive for a self-sustaining ecosystem