Tom's Blog

Monday, January 27, 2014

Some thoughts about restoration ecology

Restoration ecology is quite a new discipline.

I did a search of the principal scientific journals (using JSTOR) with the Search term “restoration ecology” . The first “hits” (4) were in 1984 (all insignificant), 3 in 1985, and 5 in 1986. A brief report of a symposium on Restoration Ecology was published by Aber and Jordan (Restoration Ecology: An Environmental Middle Ground; BioScience Vol. 35, page 399). The term  Restoration Ecology started to become widely used after a 1986 symposium on the subject held at the UW-Madison Arboretum. It was after that symposium that the journal “Restoration and Management Notes” (now called “Ecological Restoration”) was established at the Arboretum by William Jordan. The Society of Ecological Restoration itself arose out of that same symposium and became “official” in 1989.

There are now a number of universities across North America that offer  degrees or programs in Restoration Ecology. Interestingly, few of these are what might be called “major” or “research” universities.

When I thought about Restoration Ecology as a “discipline” I thought immediately of the widely cited quote of Louis Pasteur: “There are no applied sciences, but only applications of science.” (Ils n’existe pas des sciences appliquées, mais seulement des applications de la science.)

More simply put, the restoration ecologist is dealing with the applications of plant ecology, a basic science (and a branch of botany).

If I were a student starting out and interested in restoration ecology, I would not enroll in a department or program in Restoration Ecology. Rather, I would look for a university that had a strong program in botany with advanced courses in plant population ecology and plant physiological ecology. I would also look for a university that offered or supported summer internship programs that would give me the chance to get out in the field and do “hands on” work. While I was working in the field (probably pulling weeds), I would be thinking about the basic science related to the plants I was seeing.

Whether I stopped with a Bachelor’s degree, or went on for a Master’s or Ph.D. would depend on my goals and on my abilities.  If I wanted to do research, I would not stop at a Master’s, but get a Ph.D. I would look for a professor who would give me a good basic research problem in plant ecology, preferably with an herbaceous plant.

My 60-year’s experience in science may be of some use here. I was a botany major as an undergraduate, and I spent the summer after receiving my B.Sc. degree  at the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station in Wooster, Ohio, where I was able to associate with all sorts of field workers. Although my graduate work was in basic science, I never forgot my field experiences. Later, when I decided to work in microbial ecology, I was quite comfortable out in the field. 


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