New book: Primer of Ecological Restoration

Karen Holl is a professor in the Environmental Studies Department at the University of California Santa Cruz. She describes her new book, which provides an introduction to the field of ecological restoration. Primer of Ecological Restoration is available from Island Press (Use promo code PRIMER to get 20% off).

My husband teases me that it took me over 25 years to write my new book, Primer of Ecological Restoration. Indeed, I was working on a restoration ecology textbook the summer of 1994 when we met. But I decided that writing a textbook during my post-doc wasn’t a smart career move if I wanted to succeed in becoming a tenured professor. So, I put the book project on hold. I periodically revisited the idea over the next two decades as I developed my research programs on restoring tropical forests in Latin America and grasslands and riparian forests in California; taught a yearly undergraduate restoration ecology course; and collaborated with many restoration practitioners. A few years ago, when Island Press asked me if I would write a succinct, “primer” for the field of ecological restoration, I decided the time was finally right. So, my husband is correct that I have been working on this book in some form or another for many years, and I am thrilled that it is finally available from Island Press and most major book sellers.

Book Cover

Primer of Ecological Restoration (March 2020) introduces restoration in short chapters written to be read by students, land managers, and anyone interested in the topic.

The science and practice of ecological restoration have grown exponentially over the past few decades, as we aim to compensate for the negative impacts humans have had on the ecosystems that we and millions of other species depend on. With the growth of ecological restoration has come a plethora of resources: thousands of articles in the peer-reviewed and management literature, countless websites describing individual projects, and many books focused on restoring specific ecosystems.

My goal with this book is to provide a broad but succinct introduction and guide to the rapidly growing field of ecological restoration for a few audiences.

  1. I and a few other instructors, including blog editor Leighton Reid, are already using my book as an introductory text for undergraduate courses in Ecological Restoration and Restoration Ecology. Instructors can complement the book with in depth readings on specific topics and case studies tailored to the focus of the course.
  2. My primer could be used as one of a few texts in courses on Conservation Biology and Resource Management where ecological restoration is not the only topic covered.
  3. I hope this book will be of interest to natural resource managers and others who want a short introduction to ecological restoration.

To that end, I have aimed to keep jargon to a minimum and define terms in both the text and the glossary.


Approaches to increasing habitat connectivity through restoration. From Primer of Ecological Restoration. Credit: Alicia Calle.

Restoring ecosystems requires an interdisciplinary background. It is essential to understand the ecology and natural history of the ecosystem being restored and know appropriate restoration methods. But, as any practitioner knows, successful projects require familiarity with many other topics, including managing stakeholder involvement and public outreach; experience with planning, goal setting, and monitoring; and knowledge of relevant laws, permitting processes, and funding sources. My book could not possibly discuss all these topics in detail while achieving the goal of brevity, so I provide an overview of key points and illustrate them with brief examples. I co-wrote several online case studies that provide detailed information and integrate various themes illustrated by the project.

The saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words” couldn’t be truer for ecological restoration. There is no substitute for seeing before and after photos of projects and visiting restoration sites in person. Nonetheless, I used selected diagrams and tables in the book and incorporated color photos in the online case studies, to make the book cheaper and more accessible to a broad audience. The book website has links to many restoration project websites, photos, and videos available on the internet, which I will continue to update over time to reflect new approaches in this rapidly changing field.


Key habitat features in a restored meandering river. From Primer of Ecological Restoration. Credit: Michelle Pastor.

This book is not intended as a thorough guide of how to restore specific ecosystem types, so readers are likely to want more in depth resources on specific topics. To this end, I have provided short reading lists at the end of each chapter. On the website, I provide questions for reflection and discussion that ask readers to apply the ideas presented in the book to a restoration project of their choice. The website also has examples of restoration project design plans that restoration practitioners have kindly shared, and I welcome suggestions from readers for additional resources to include.

I hope you find the book interesting and stimulating, and look forward to your feedback. You can review a detailed table of contents here. Finally, a quick tip that you can get a 20% discount on the book if you purchase the book at the Island Press website and use the promo code PRIMER.


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