ISSN 1188-603X

No. 379 May 15, 2007 Victoria, B.C.
Dr. A. Ceska, P.O.Box 8546, Victoria, B.C. Canada V8W 3S2


From: Rudy van Diggelen, Community & Conservation Ecology Group, University of Groningen, PO Box 14, 9750 AA Haren, The Netherlands. []
Originally published in: Zpravy Ceske. Botanicke Spolecnosti, Praha, 41, Mater. 21: 7-12, 2006. Posted in BEN with author's and CBS permissions.


The present paper gives a brief introduction to the science of restoration ecology and the practice of ecological restoration. The importance to agree upon common targets is emphasized and examples are given of the spatial consequences of restoration plans that are based upon different views of nature. Then the topic is discussed whether restoration projects should aim at increasing biodiversity or at alternative targets such as maximizing certain ecosystem functions or societal services. Finally the developments in restoration ecology are depicted from an applied science that was mainly focused on problems with a single species or one taxonomic group towards a more integrated and more fundamental discipline.


In recent years the words 'ecological restoration' and 'restoration ecology' have become widely used, not only among ecologists and conservations but also among policy makers.

Impressive as this increase in itself may be, does this necessarily mean that the actual work of ecosystem recovery has improved in the same way? Do we know better nowadays how to repair damaged ecosystems? Unfortunately this is not always the case. There is still much debate going on about targets, values, techniques, and other issues. To a large extent this is a sign that this field is vividly alive. However, such discussions consume also large amounts of energy and sometimes lead to contra-productive results. Different groups in society may have different (implicit) targets in mind when talking about restoration. For instance foresters may want to restore open cast mining sites into commercial woodlands whereas conservationists want to restore species-rich woodlands and consider species-poor tree plantations as a problem rather than a solution. It is impossible to pursue both targets at the same place and it is here that science comes into play. As scientists we can assist in the process by giving insight in the consequences and probabilities for success of the different targets and necessary steps to reach these goals.

What are we talking about?

Many definitions exist of ecological restoration (e.g. NRC, 1992; Jackson et al., 1995; SWS, 2000). All stress the idea of active human intervention to reverse certain ecosystem developments which are considered negative. At present the most widely used definition is the one presented by the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER, 2002; and adopted by IUCN:

Ecological restoration is the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed.

This definition is very broad and does not say anything about practical issues such as how to restore a spoiled site or a fragmented landscape but it does show clearly that restoration has to do with active engagement and intervention in current social and environmental affairs. Like most other authors, I distinguish between 'ecological restoration' as the actual practice and 'restoration ecology' as the science behind ecological restoration. One can say that the goal of restoration ecology is to predict the trajectory and endpoints of ecological restoration.

Targets in ecological restoration

Before any scientific analysis can be made about effectiveness and practibility of alternative restoration strategies it is necessary to agree upon common targets (Bakker et al. 2000). Unfortunately this is the topic of much debate, even within the group of conservationists. Partly this has to do with different views of nature. Swart et al. (2001) classified people's views of nature into 3 broad types.

  1. Wilderness concept;
  2. Arcadian concept; and
  3. Functional concept.

Central in the wilderness concept ('natural landscapes' cf. Westhoff 1952) is the idea that nature regulates itself. In this concept the role of humans is minimal, except for practical issues like legislation, protection against poachers and similar issues. This view is especially pursued in sparsely populated areas like northern America, Australia, etc. In more densely populated areas, like Western and Central Europe the arcadian and the functional concept are the dominant views of nature.

The arcadian concept ('semi-natural landscapes cf. Westhoff 1952) is especially popular among conservationists because biodiversity is highest in such low-intensity management landscapes. Management is essential to keep such systems and nature conservation organisations often mimic ancient agricultural management techniques (Bakker 1989).

The functional concept ('rural landscapes' cf. Westhoff 1952) considers nature as something to be used by man. At present this includes both the 'classical' resource use by farmers and foresters and ecosystem services such as clean air, flooding prevention and similar issues.

If the parties involved have agreed upon the type of nature to be restored the question arises whether the restoration is specifically aimed at restoring certain species or at more general ecosystem characteristics. Species restoration can be aimed at restoring target species that are considered desirable because they are red list species, typical for certain ecosystems or because they are keystone species, that are considered essential for the functioning of the whole ecosystem.

Ecosystems restoration may be aimed at restoring functioning ecosystems including species assemblages, material and energy flows, nutrient pools and ecosystem architecture. Alternatively, it may be aimed at restoring certain ecosystem services that are beneficial to human welfare such as food and timber production, O2 production, water filtration but also more indirect services such as producing a scenery landscape that is attractive for recreation (cf. Harms et al. 1993).

Developments in Restoration Ecology

In the 1970s en 1980s ecological restoration was mainly pursued at the species level. It started when land managers observed that it took sometimes very long before derelict sites became naturally vegetated after the cessation of open cast mining and other activities. Restorationists than started to introduce species in order to speed up the succession process and scientific research was especially aimed at solving practical questions like how to overcome physical constraints such as high levels of poisonous heavy metals (e.g., Bloomfield et al. 1982). Other research was related to the question why it takes so long before species-rich meadows redevelop from heavily fertilized species-poor grassland, even after the application of fertilizer has stopped (e.g. Bakker 1989).

A next step in the development of the science of restoration ecology was the realization that causes of degradation are sometimes localized but more often due to large-scale alteration of a whole landscape, that affect local abiotic conditions such as nutrient availability. Examples are changes in groundwater flow paths due to human interactions with the hydrology, sometimes at a considerable distance from the affected site ( Schot & Van der Wal 1992; van Diggelen et al. 1994) or socio- economic changes that affect land use and associated biodiversity patterns (Boutin & Jobin, 1998; Van Diggelen et al. 2005). Before successful restoration can take place the causes of such degradation have to be taken away or alternative targets have to be chosen.

In recent times restoration ecological research not only tries to solve the above-mentioned problems but is broadening its scope. On one hand more and more disciplines are getting involved, e.g. microbiology (e.g. Harris 2003), economics (Costanza et al. 1997) and others. On the other hand the science is also moving towards more fundamental questions, for example about species assembly rules during ecosystem restoration (Temperton et al. 2004), the role of soil biota in ecosystem functioning (Van der Putten et al. 2004), causes of biodiversity (Olff et al. 2002) and similar types of topics. The field develops very fast indeed, both in Western and Central Europe, and in North America. Restoration ecology is vividly alive.


Bakker, J.P. 1989.
Nature management by grazing and cutting. Kluwer, Dordrecht.
Bakker, J.P., A.P. Grootjans, M.Hermy, M. & P. Poschlod. 2000.
How to define targets for ecological restoration? Appl. Veg. Sci. 3: 1 - 6.
Bloomfield H.E., J.F. Handley, & A.D. Bradshaw. 1982.
Nutrient deficiencies and the aftercare of reclaimed derelict land. J. Appl. Ecol. 19: 151-158.
Boutin, C., & B. Jobin. 1998.
Intensity of agricultural practices and effects on adjacent habitats. Ecol. Appl. 8: 544-557.
Costanza, R., R. D'Arge, R. De Groot, S.Farber, M. Grasso, B. Hannon, K. Limburg, S. Naeem, R.V. O'Neill, J. Paruelo, R.G.Raskin, P. Sutton, & M. Van den Belt. 1997.
The value of the world's ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature 387: 253-260.
Harms, B., J.P. Knaapen, & J.G. Rademakers. 1993.
Landscape planning for nature restoration: comparing regional scenarios. Pp. 197-218, in: Vos, C.C. & P. Opdam (eds.) Landscape ecology of a stressed environment. Chapman and Hall, London.
Harris, J.A. 2003.
Measurements of the soil microbial community for estimating the success of restoration. Europ. J. Soil Sci. 54: 801-808.
Jackson, L.L., M. Lopoukhine, & D. Hillyard. 1995.
Ecological restoration: a definition and comments. Rest. Ecol. 3: 71-75.
National Research Council, 1992.
Restoration of Aquatic Ecosystems: Science, technology and public policy. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, USA.
Olff, H., M.E. Ritchie, & H.H.T. Prins. 2002.
Global environmental determinants of diversity in large herbivores. Nature 415: 901-905
Schot, P.P. & J. Van der Wal. 1992.
Human impact on regional groundwater composition through intervention in natural flow patterns and changes in landuse. J. Hydrol. 141: 197-217.
Society of Wetland Scientists, 2000.
Position Paper on the Definition of Wetland Restoration.
Swart, J.A.A., H.J. Van der Windt, & J. Keulartz. 2001.
Valuation of nature in conservation and restoration. Rest. Ecol. 9: 230-238.
Temperton, V.M., R.J. Hobbs, T. Nuttle, & S. Halle, 2004.
Assembly rules and restoration ecology. Island Press, Washingon, D.C., USA.
Van der Putten, W.H., P.C. De Ruiter, T.M. Bezemer, J.A. Harvey, M. Wassen, & V. Wolters. 2004.
Trophic interactions in a changing world. Basic Appl. Ecol. 5: 487-494.
Van Diggelen, R., A.P. Grootjans, & R. Burkunk. 1994.
Assessing restoration perspectives of disturbed brook valleys: the Gorecht area. The Netherlands. Rest. Ecol. 2: 87-96.
Van Diggelen, R., F.J. Sijtsma, D. Strijker, J. Van den Burg, & B. Hoentjen. 2004.
Relating land use intensity and biodiversity at the meso level. Basic Appl. Ecol. 6: 145- 159.
Westhoff, V., 1952.
The management of nature reserves in densely populated countries considered from a botanical viewpoint. Pp. 77-82 in: Proceedings and Papers of the Technical Meeting of the International Union for the Protection of Nature. The Hague/Brussels.


From: Krupnick, Gary A. and W. John Kress. 2005. Plant Conservation: A Natural History Approach. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. 346 p.

[This extract represents a subsection of Chapter 14: Grassroots Conservation, by Stanwyn G. Shetler. The subsection covers pages 302 - 304. This chapter includes other subsections: "the role of native plant societies", "conservation programs", "when natives become aliens", "lifestyle issues and conservation", and "local citizen activism and environmental conservation".]

The Future of Native Plant Societies

After more than a century of increasing activism, the native plant societies and the movement they have sparked have had a very large and often critical impact in the cause of conserving North America's natural habitats and indigenous flora. Their members compose an ever growing army of grassroots conservationists who daily are making a difference at the " frontlines". But will the strategies and solutions of the past be adequate to meet the infinitely greater conservation challenge of the new century? I see our societies at a crossroad of sorts with a need to sharpen our primary aims and avoid letting subordinate activities crowd out the main mission.

Surely the most urgent task is to save native flora in the wild, which means wherever native populations of native species are still clinging to native habitats, no matter how compromised they may be. Saving species always comes down to saving the places where they grow, and thus one might say that the three basic rules for the preservation of the native flora are save habitat, save habitat, save habitat! The native plant societies and their various alliances should face this task with singular focus, and their prime energies should be invested in accomplishing it. The best ways to do this are

  1. by directly facilitating preservation through purchase, gifts, and activism; and
  2. by educating all levels of society, but especially the children and the leaders and officials, about the values of natural areas and native species in situ.

Horticulture, it can be argued, is a subordinate focus that can be very distracting. Many, perhaps a majority, or the members of native plant societies are drawn in through their gardening interests, and native plans become a new outlet for expressing these interests. As a consequence, horticultural perspectives can come to dominate the actions of the society. These perspectives may be at odds with purely botanical perspectives and lead to conflicting objectives and a mixed message to the public.

Gardens of all types, using "garden" in the broadest sense to include the whole realm of agriculture and horticulture, are an essential part of human existence, and in today's world it is appropriate within the planted or formal landscape that native plant societies encourage gardening and landscaping with native plants. Native plant gardens, such as the Garden in the Woods in New England, are not only beautiful and satisfying accomplishments but, as already indicated, extremely valuable places for demonstration and teaching.

Gardens are gardens, and planted landscapes are planted landscapes, however. All plants in them except the unplanned " weeds", native or alien, are introduced. Native plant gardens are fine, but gardening is gardening. A landscape planted with native species is just as much a cultivated landscape as a typical garden of exotics from the world's flora, even though the former stands out less clearly as planted.

Will we in the native plant movement be remembered more for saving habitats or for adding to the planted landscape? Surely the primary business of native plant societies should be to save wild places and their native species, not to add to or promote the planted landscape. Civilization is busily turning natural landscape into planted landscape at an ever faster pace, and native plant societies should be trying to slow down, not fuel, that process.

Native Plant Societies are contributing to the clamor for planted landscapes by promoting the planting of native species along roadsides and in other sites being reclaimed or restored. Consequently, the landscape is being homogenized and the natural landscape thoroughly compromised, as the line between the natural and the artificial (planted) is being completely blurred. This practice also provides a cop-out for those developers who want to clear-cut rather than save fragments of wild land, because if they then landscape with native species, they can claim that they are appropriately mitigating the damage, perhaps even enhancing the environment. Of course, mitigation of damage and disturbance with plantings is often necessary, and the use of native species should be given top consideration. There are many situations, however, where the cheaper and ecologically superior option would be to let grow what naturally would grow, but this option is rarely promoted or chosen.

The growing "plant native" movement has spawned a growing market for native plants and a whole industry to supply them, which is rapidly going form a cottage industry to a big-time business among mainstream nurseries. Because there are always some unscrupulous suppliers who sell wild-collected rather than nursery-grown stock, the larger the industry gets the more endangered wild populations become, especially of specialty groups like the cacti and orchids. Helping to stimulate and supply the market are the native plant societies themselves with their own native plant sales and conferences on landscaping with native plants.

Shouldn't our native plant societies be strong advocates for natural process in the revegetation of land, minimizing intervention and letting nature be nature wherever possible? Active reclamation, beautification, and restoration with or without native plant species are forms of gardening that add to the planted, not the natural, landscape. Artificial roadside wildflower gardens, beautiful and cheery as they may be, nevertheless stand out as plantings and are unlikely to persist without maintenance, whether or not the species are native locally. Compounding seed mixes for these gardens can pose many controversial choices, and any roadside planting is potentially a risk to the ecological and genetic integrity of nearby natural habitats and native plant populations. Most parcels would revegetate quickly and maintain themselves by natural means from local species and thus retain the proper sense of place and harmony with the surroundings. Unwanted aliens such as tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) may invade whether or not there has been deliberate planting.

Letting nature take its course through the natural stages of colonization and succession whenever possible would save governments and businesses, and ultimately taxpayers and customers, much money, especially now that the canon, from the highest levels of government down, calls for native species in reclamation and landscaping. This requirement is forcing the U.S. federal government into the expensive business of being its own supplier and maintaining regional stocks across the nation. Wild genetic stocks are being compromised by nursery-propagated stocks, and, increasingly, the genetic origins of native flora are being confused.

Eradication can also become a diversion from the main focus. No one can dispute the growing, costly menace of invasive alien plants with the ever-increasing globalization of civilization. Good-faith efforts must be made to stem the tide, particularly through education. The risk is to be unrealistic, however, letting the fight against invasives get out of proportion. After all, only a fraction of the introduced flora is truly invasive, and not all invasives are aliens. The war on invasives tends to lead unintentionally to a phyto-xenophobia that demonizes all non-native plants in the public mind, painting them all in shades of black. This can be counterproductive for the cause by disillusioning the many wildflower lovers who do not understand the distinction between native and nonnative plants and have always cherished such naturalized wildflowers as Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota). It can also stimulate unenlightened efforts that result in eradicating the wrong species (e.g., sumac [Rhus] instead of tree of heaven) or in using herbicides unwisely.

The problem of alien invasives is massive and long-standing. Targeted local campaigns within well-delimited areas (e.g. parks, restricted habitats) can be and have been quite successful. The battles have to be chosen carefully, however. Eradication efforts without clearly limited goals are likely to be an exercise in futility. Trying to undo the past or prevent the inevitable and uncontrollable present and future is as hopeless as trying to carry away the beach one sand grain at a time.


From: Ecological Society of America[ECOLOG-L@LISTSERV.UMD.EDU] on behalf of David Inouye [inouye@UMD.EDU]

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From: Jay Stone, CanWest News Service [] [Published in the Times-Colonist, Victoria, British Columbia, Tuesday, May 01, 2007, posted in BEN with permission of the author and the CanWest News Service.]

The Chinese Botanist's Daughters
Starring: Mylene Jampanoi, Xiao Ran Li, Ling Dong Fu
Directed by: Sijie Dai
Parental Advisory: nudity, adult themes.
Rating: Three stars out of five.
(In Mandarin with English subtitles)

- - -Things are all exotic and steamy, and also fairly gluey, in The Chinese Botanist's Daughters, a movie whose arcane title may not prepare you for the modern sensibility it places in the middle of a timeless Orient. This is, to put it bluntly, a movie all dressed up in historic-looking garb and set in luscious landscapes that is in fact another version of that contemporary drama, the love that dare not whisper its name, although it is often prepared to remove its clothes.

It concerns young Li Ming (Mylene Jampanoi), a young woman who is sent from an orphanage to study with Prof. Cheng (Ling Dong Fu), a man with such strict habits that if you call him at 9:08 p.m., eight minutes after the time at which a professor can be disturbed, he hangs up on you. Prof. Cheng is the botanist of the title: he lives on an island of quiet pagodas, long wooden walkways, red lanterns, and bottles of herbs. He spends his time with his nose in his plants, and he is so sensitive he can tell the season of the rainwater from which his tea must be made.

However, he doesn't have enough on the ball to figure out what has happened when Li Ming meets his daughter, An (Xiao Ran Li), a devoted woman who spends a lot of time caring for her father's feet (podiatry is an unstated subtext of this film). An becomes a guide for Li Ming in the world of herbalism: we learn, for instance, that snakes are paralyzed by the scent of sulphur and mountain wisteria cures heart disease. But it's a scene where An is mixing pine resin with her feet - pine resin cures skin infections and boils -and the camera moves slowly down her body, that we understand that Li Ming has a lot more on her mind than mountain wisteria.

Things get complicated when An's brother Tan, a soldier, returns from Tibet and decides Li Ming would make an appropriate wife. Suddenly, the Chinese botanist's daughter finds herself in the middle of a very contemporary love triangle.

That mix of today and yesterday is part of the tone of the movie. People with oxen walk beside school buses; a macaw in an ornate cage has been trained to say "Long life to Chairman Mao." The movie is inspired by an actual 1980 event, but there are times in the paradise of Prof. Cheng's island when you could be back in the era of the dynasties: the quiet woods, the upturned corners of the roofs, the trees that look as if they were made by the tree-maker on his day off, when he had a chance to do something more sprawling.

It's Chinese to the core, but it's a France-Canada co-production that was partly financed by Telefilm Canada (we really do have a wacky film industry), and there is a slightly artificial feel to it. There are scenes of erotic passion, with naked women lying on beds of herbs in a greenhouse as the mist curls up around them, or standing under showers washing off curative mud, but you get the feeling that director Sijie Dai doesn't really have his heart in that part of the film. It's as much a political narrative as a love story, and it's never quite the hothouse of passion it wants to be.

It's beautiful, however, and also sad and often bewitching: you remember a wedding with confetti being shot off like a cannon, or a scene of a train track running down what looks like an alleyway behind village houses (the movie was shot in Vietnam because the Chinese would not allow its political content.) The Chinese Botanist's Daughters is a story about the repressive nature of tradition - the patriotic macaw, we remember, is in a cage - and the unquenchable nature of love.

CAPSULE REVIEW - The Chinese Botanist's Daughters: Set in 1980s China and based on a true story, this romance concerns a young woman who falls in love with the daughter of a renowned herbalist. This modern love story is cast amid a traditional land: the movie takes place on an island that seems timeless in its Asian landscape. It's as much a political story as a love story, however, and its hothouse passions are never quite as steamy as they're meant to be. Three stars out of five.

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