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A new study:The ecology and economics of restoration: when, what, where, and how to restore ecosystems, surveys the history of land restoration efforts and highlights best practices

Restoration ecology has provided a suite of ecological and economic tools and theories for accelerating the recovery of damaged ecosystems that have proven to be incredibly valuable to humans. Importantly, the authors define restoration ecology as the science associated with returning to society the biodiversity and ecosystem functions of degraded, damaged, or destroyed ecosystems.

This is broader than the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) definition, which is the science of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed (SER 2004).

The distinction between the two definitions is that the SER definition defines ecological restoration only as facilitating the recovery of the damaged or degraded ecosystem, whereas our broader definition also includes approaches that restore biodiversity or function at damaged or other sites. Hence, in this review, we cover concepts that are arguably not restoration based on the SER definition, such as mitigation, “off-site restoration,” and the creation of novel or hybrid (with novel elements) ecosystems.

The ecology and economics of restoration: when, what, where, and how to restore ecosystems

For when to restore, the report highlights the value of pursuing restoration early to prevent ecosystems from crossing tipping points and evaluating whether unassisted natural recovery is more cost-effective than active restoration.

For what to restore, the report encourages developing a restoration plan with stakeholders that will restore structural, compositional, and functional endpoints, and whose goal is a more resistant and resilient ecosystem.

For where to restore, the report emphasizes developing restoration approaches that can address the impediment of rural poverty in the developing world, and identifying and then balancing the ecosystems and regions in most need of restoration and those that are best positioned for success.

For the economics of how to restore ecosystems, the report reviews the advantages and disadvantages of market-based strategies, such as environmental insurance bonds and payment for ecosystem services frameworks, for funding, incentivizing, and ensuring restoration.

In line with the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report, the study concludes that ecological restoration can complement conservation efforts in maintaining services provided by natural capital and thus improving human livelihoods.(Warning: a sixth mass species extinction is on the cards/GEF)