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The Future of Ecological Restoration

Ecological restoration is an increasingly important part of the discussion among all of us who are concerned about the global environment. There is a steady stream of news about restoration initiatives around the world— an inspiring groundswell of interest in the possibilities that restoration can offer. In June, for example, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew will host a workshop for Kew staff and invited experts, including representatives of Society of Ecological Restoration International, to consider its future role in the science supporting ecological restoration. In the United States, Missouri Botanical Garden and New York Botanical Garden are undertaking similar efforts to develop restoration work within their programs.

I see these developments as not only a measure of progress within the field of restoration but also a clear sign of how the world has changed in the twenty years since we began working with the restoration community. In those early days, expert reviewers sometimes worried that if people knew ecological restoration was possible, they might relax their efforts to avoid damage in the first place. In other words, would effective restoration techniques conflict with urgent efforts to conserve and protect threatened habitat?

Twenty years later, those questions have disappeared—swallowed up by the overwhelming global realities of climate change, loss of biodiversity, desertification. We know now that conservation and restoration must be partners going forward. As Jim Harris, chair of SER’s Science and Policy Working Group, says, “Protecting what we have is still important, but no longer sufficient.” Since ecological restoration not only builds resilience into ecosystems but also emphasizes adaptive management in the face of uncertainty, its insights are particularly well-suited to the world we face.

Interested in learning more? One of the contributions of botanical gardens is discussed in Ex Situ Plant Conservation: Supporting Species Survival in the Wild, edited by Edward O. Guerrant Jr., Kayri Havens, and Mike Maunder. You can download a free excerpt of this book and others in the SER series in the SER Restoration Reader.