Introduction to special issue

The Rise of Restoration Ecology

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Science  31 Jul 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5940, pp. 555
DOI: 10.1126/science.325_555
CREDIT: GRAND TOUR/CORBIS

In art, restoration involves recapturing an object's aesthetic value. In ecology, the stakes are arguably much higher: Our planet's future may depend on the maturation of the young discipline of ecological restoration. In this issue, we sample restoration projects around the world and consider the state of the science of this emerging field.

The goal of restoration ecology is not necessarily to restore an ecosystem to a pristine, prehuman ideal, but a long-term view is still important. In the opening Perspective, Jackson and Hobbs (p. 567) highlight paleoecology as a component of restoration science. Two more Perspectives focus on aspects of terrestrial ecosystems that are vital to the success of restoration. Harris (p. 573) considers the role of the soil microbial community: the bacteria and fungi that degrade organic matter and provide nutrients to the system. Dixon (p. 571) highlights the role of pollinators, whose activities are essential to natural and restored plant communities. The struggle to balance ecosystem complexity and economic reality is the theme of three News features: two that examine efforts to restore functional forest ecosystems in southern China (p. 556) and Borneo (p. 557) and a third that probes the ecological consequences of burgeoning rubber plantations in Southeast Asia (p. 564).

How successful is restoration? In a Perspective, Palmer and Filoso (p. 575) caution that it is unlikely to lead to the full recovery of the biodiversity and ecosystem services of undisturbed systems. A meta-analysis by Rey Benayas et al., published on Science Express this week, confirms this view but shows that well-done restoration consistently enhances biodiversity and ecosystem services. In another Perspective, Norton (p. 569) considers the limits to restoration posed by invasive species, and a News story examines the success of a national program targeting invasives in South Africa (p. 562). Also on Science Express this week, Schulte et al. report an unprecedented restoration of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay in the eastern United States, which bodes well for the health of the entire estuarine ecosystem. Coral reefs, meanwhile, are under attack from human insults and climate change; a News feature (p. 559) gives an overview of important efforts to restore damaged reefs. Finally, in a Research Article, Worm et al. (p. 578) review current efforts to restore marine ecosystems and fisheries, concluding that making fisheries sustainable is an achievable goal.

Restoration ecology is a relatively new science—the Society for Ecological Restoration International (www.ser.org/default.asp) celebrates its 21st birthday this year—but in its short life it has assumed a major role in sustainable development efforts across the globe.

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