Ecological theory and community restoration ecology

M.A. Palmer, R.F. Ambrose, LeRoy POFF

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

798 Citations (Scopus)


Community ecological theory may play an important role in the development of a science of restoration ecology. Not only will the practice of restoration benefit from an increased focus on theory, but basic research in community ecology will also benefit. We pose several major thematic questions that are relevant to restoration from the perspective of community ecological theory and, for each, identify specific areas that are in critical need of further research to advance the science of restoration ecology. We ask, what are appropriate restoration endpoints from a community ecology perspective? The problem of measuring restoration at the community level, particularly given the high amount of variability inherent in most natural communities, is not easy, and may require a focus on restoration of community function (e.g., trophic structure) rather than a focus on the restoration of particular species. We ask, what are the benefits and limitations of using species composition or biodiversity measures as endpoints in restoration ecology? Since reestablishing all native species may rarely be possible, research is needed on the relationship between species richness and community stability of restored sites and on functional redundancy among species in regional colonist "pools." Efforts targeted at restoring system function must take into account the role of individual species, particularly if some species play a disproportionate role in processing material or are strong interactors. We ask, is restoration of habitat a sufficient approach to reestablish species and function? Many untested assumptions concerning the relationship between physical habitat structure and restoration ecology are being made in practical restoration efforts. We need rigorous testing of these assumptions, particularly to determine how generally they apply to different taxa and habitats. We ask, to what extent can empirical and theoretical work on community succession and dispersal contribute to restoration ecology? We distinguish systems in which succession theory may be broadly applicable from those in which it is probably not. If community development is highly predictable, it may be feasible to manipulate natural succession processes to accelerate restoration. We close by stressing that the science of restoration ecology is so intertwined with basic ecological theory that practical restoration efforts should rely heavily on what is known from theoretical and empirical research on how communities develop and are structured over time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)291-300
Number of pages10
JournalRestoration Ecology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1997


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