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Different? Yes, But Still Degraded

Friday, August 26, 2016   (0 Comments)
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Different? Yes, But Still Degraded
Authors: James Aronson1,2, Gustavo Kattan 3, Carolina Murcia 4,5, Kingsley Dixon 6, Andre Clewell 7 David Moreno-Mateos 8,9 & Dan Simberloff 10

The precise use of terms is an important part of the maturation of a scientific discipline and of any large-scale, expensive, and time-consuming activity that requires careful monitoring and evaluation to improve its effectiveness. This is true for example in restoration ecology and ecological restoration at a time when all three United Nations Conventions – CBD, UNCCD and UNFCCC - are calling for largescale ecological restoration (ER) on at least 15% of our planet’s degraded ecosystems. ER also involves many different disciplines, value systems, and even cosmologies, and increasingly engages a wide range of actors that participate in or are affected by restoration projects and programs.

In April, the Society for Ecological Restoration widely shared a press release on, for a Restoration Ecology article by Richard Hobbs (2016) who proposes to revise the concept of “degradation,” as it pertains to ecosystems and to consider degraded ecosystems as “just different.” The justification behind this proposal is that “degradation” is a subjective and therefore hard to define concept, whereas “difference” is tangible and precise. In an Opinion article manuscript we have just submitted to Restoration Ecology, we explain why we think Hobbs’s proposal is not only unnecessary but counter-productive.

This proposal is incorrect because ecosystem degradation can be quantitatively measured and has a clear meaning, whereas “just different” is quite subjective and it is imprecise for it can connote a positive or negative difference.

Further, if the concept of “degradation” is subjective because it implies a reference and a value system, so is the concept of “difference,” and we gain nothing and stand to lose much with this proposed replacement. Quite the contrary, we say let’s increase our efforts to improve the effectiveness of science-based ecological restoration in response to growing calls and treaties at national and international levels to scale-up restoration in the next 20 years. Ecological restoration cannot yet offer perfect fixes and, at present, it is not possible to restore ecosystems completely: it may never be. But what else can we do than try and do better?


1 Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development, Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Blvd., St. Louis, Missouri, 63166-0299 USA.

2 Centre d’Écologie Fonctionnelle et Évolutive (UMR 5175, CEFE - campus CNRS), 1919, Route de Mende, 34293 Montpellier, France.

3 Departamento de Ciencias Naturales y Matemáticas, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana Seccional Cali, Cali, Colombia.

4 University of Florida, Department of Biology, Gainesville, Florida 32611, USA.

5 Organization for Tropical Studies, 410 Swift Avenue, Box 90630 Durham, Durham, NC 27705, USA.

6 ARC Centre for Mine Restoration, Department of Environment and Agriculture, Curtin University, Crawley 6009, Western Australia.

7 5812 Old Federal Road, Quincy, Florida 32351 USA.

8 Basque Centre for Climate Change, Alameda Urquijo 4, 48008 Bilbao, Spain.

9 IKERBASQUE, Basque Foundation for Science, Diaz de Haro 5, 48008, Bilbao, Spain.

10 Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA.