In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Restoration Ecology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Ecological Restoration and Restoration Ecology
  • Historical Background
  • Restoring Communities
  • Restoring Ecosystems
  • Exotic and Invasive Plant Species in Restoration
  • Future Considerations

Ecology Restoration Ecology
Sara G. Baer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0109


Restoration ecology is a scientific discipline that applies ecological theory in order to develop general principles to guide the practice of ecological restoration. Experimentation within restorations have revealed opportunities for testing hypotheses in ecology, particularly generating knowledge of how to reconstruct the composition, functions, and services of degraded environments. Since being defined in the late 1980s, the discipline has generated scientific interest and proven academic competence, with a 250-fold increase in the number of searchable scientific publications between 1990 and 2010, compared with the two preceding decades. Scientific inquiry in restoration ecology spans all levels of biological organization, from population genetics to biogeochemical cycling. Restoration ecology is related to conservation biology in that both disciplines are goal oriented, but the intent of restoration is to improve a system state damaged by human activity by way of human intervention. Restoration ecology has been dominated by botanical studies, which often include ecosystem components and processes (e.g., soil and hydrology) as well as whole system-level investigation. The discipline has provoked debate over what it means to restore nature; where to source individuals for initiating communities or augmenting populations; which systems serve as appropriate references; and whether modified or entirely different restoration targets should be considered in light of rapid climate and other global changes.

General Overviews

Restoration ecology is the science of ecological restoration, defined by the Society for Ecological Restoration International Science and Policy Working Group 2004 as “the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed” (p. 3). Cairns and Heckman 1996 synthesizes the state of the field and emphasizes that restoration ecology is its own discipline rather than a subdiscipline of ecology, distinct in its focus on the human factor in all aspects of repairing nature. Hobbs and Norton 1996 proposes a conceptual framework for restoration ecology that presents restoration as a continuum of human-facilitated improvement of a system state, without regard to the degree of degradation. Furthermore, Hobbs and Norton 1996 outlines key processes that need to be understood (e.g., the degrading influence on a system; the realistic ability to remove that influence perpetuating the degraded state; and ecological, socioeconomic, and cultural constraints to removing the cause of degradation) in order to develop achievable restoration goals. Dobson, et al. 1997 stresses that the disciplines of restoration ecology and conservation biology offer “hope for the future” of life on earth and that they depend on one another to achieve their respective goals, as resources (biota) needed for restoration are supplied through conservation efforts, and land area needed to sustain biodiversity will depend on restoration. There is overlap between the goals of restoration ecology and conservation biology, but Young 2000 endeavors to disconnect the disciplines on conceptual and operational bases. This analysis reveals the zoological versus botanical emphasis of each field and the “top-down” versus “grassroots” implementation approaches in conservation biology and restoration ecology, respectively. Young, et al. 2005 notes that, despite being a relatively young discipline, restoration ecology has proven academic competence. To update and underscore the increasing scientific inquiry in restoration ecology first documented in Young, et al. 2005, only twenty-eight articles were found through the Web of Science online database, using the search terms “restor AND ecol” for 1970–1990, whereas more than seven thousand articles were searchable through the same database, using these keywords for 1990–2010. Growing interest and demand for training in restoration ecology are exhibited by an increasing number of textbooks (see Textbooks). Two edited volumes, in particular, Temperton, et al. 2004 and Falk, et al. 2006 contain comprehensive syntheses of the relevance of ecological theory to restoration in many focus areas of ecology.

  • Cairns, John, Jr., and John R. Heckman. 1996. Restoration ecology: The state of an emerging field. Annual Review of Energy and the Environment 21:167–189.

    DOI: 10.1146/

    This article defines the distinctiveness of restoration ecology, resulting from the focus on the human factor and reviews highly relevant ecological principles for restoration. Scientific highlights from restoration studies across a variety of ecosystems are described. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Dobson, Andy P., A. D. Bradshaw, and A. J. M. Baker. 1997. Hopes for the future: Restoration ecology and conservation biology. Science 277.5325: 515–522.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.277.5325.515

    The authors model the disproportionate impact of human presence on the landscape, the land area degraded for resources, and demonstrate the need for both conservation biology and restoration ecology in order to protect habitat for biodiversity and provide reservoirs for species to reverse environmental degradation, respectively. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Falk, Donald A., Margaret A. Palmer, and Joy B. Zedler, eds. 2006. Foundations of restoration ecology. Science and Practice of Ecological Restoration. Washington, DC: Island.

    An academically advanced collection of synthesis articles on the relevance of ecological theory to ecological restoration from genetic, population, community, and ecosystem perspectives.

  • Hobbs, Richard J., and David A. Norton. 1996. Towards a conceptual framework for restoration ecology. Restoration Ecology 4.2: 93–110.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1526-100X.1996.tb00112.x

    One of the most heavily cited papers in restoration ecology, this concept article defines restoration as any activity that improves a system state along a continuum of degradation and offers general guidelines for restoration practice, underscoring the role of ecological knowledge and human capacity in developing goals and reversing degradation through restoration. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Society for Ecological Restoration International Science and Policy Working Group. 2004. The SER international primer on ecological restoration. Tucson, AZ: Society for Ecological Restoration International.

    This document contains the most highly cited definition of ecological restoration, describes system attributes that restoration should aim to achieve, defines many ecological terms relating to restoration, reviews sources of information that can be used to define reference conditions, and summarizes considerations about exotic species relevant to restoration.

  • Temperton, Vicky M., Richard J. Hobbs, Tim Nuttle, and Stefan Halle, eds. 2004. Assembly rules and restoration ecology: Bridging the gap between theory and practice. Science and Practice of Ecological Restoration. Washington, DC: Island.

    A valuable volume of concept- and synthesis-infused chapters on the relevance of community assembly rules, ecological filters, disturbance, and thresholds to restoration, with examples from multiple ecosystems.

  • van Andel, Jelte, and James Aronson, eds. 2006. Restoration ecology: The new frontier. Oxford: Blackwell.

    This textbook that offers practical, habitat-specific restoration practices and discusses the role of climate change, policy, and social systems in restoration.

  • Young, Truman P. 2000. Restoration ecology and conservation biology. Biological Conservation 92.1: 73–83.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0006-3207(99)00057-9

    The author reviewed all the articles published in two restoration-ecology– and two conservation-biology–focused journals over a discrete time period to demonstrate the distinctiveness of the two disciplines with respect to organismal concentration, emphasis of inquiry in fields of biology, and approach to implementation. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Young, Truman P., D. A. Petersen, and J. J. Clary. 2005. The ecology of restoration: Historical links, emerging issues and unexplored realms. Ecology Letters 8.6: 662–673.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2005.00764.x

    This article exhibits the growth of scientific publications in restoration ecology from 1974 to 2005, summarizes emerging ecological concepts the field is poised to address, reviews advances in plant community ecology informed by restoration studies, and advocates the need for greater exchange of information between academic scientists and practitioners.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.