Philosopher Nassim Taleb coins the term naïve interventionism to name management actions on complex systems that are highly ineffective and can also generate iatrogenics which literally means “harm done by the healer”. Sadly, most restorationists and about 99% of forest engineers perform naive interventions on restoration initiatives that go really wrong.

Here i will discuss shortly the three most common naïve interventions in different restoration projects. Avoid them at all cost. No one is safe from making mistakes, but this ones are non-acceptable.

1. intricate designs in restoration projects

Squared designs, triangular designs, circular ones etc. You name them. I’ve seen a lot these  plantings with 10, 20, 30 years old and it’s all pasturelands. The money was lost, and the possibility to recover those lands.  They don’t work. Where have you seen this perfect geometrical arrangement of species in nature?




Artificial bird perches are probably my favourite example of  naïve interventionism.  They are silly, a waste of time and resources, but actually they don’t do much harm. They just have awesome designs  coming  from good hearts and good intentions.  Thankfully people are recovering their minds and some papers are already showing they have limited potential and are inefficient (Graham y Page 2011)


bird perchartificial bird perch



This is a design for a restoration project that went wrong in Colombia.  It got blocks, bird perches, refuges for fauna, it looks  can’t get worse than this:

planting design go wrong


How to avoid it: Don’t think you can engineer nature. What you can do is direct and accelerate succession, help natural regeneration and stop perturbations. This concepts are all related to the idea that you need to take the natural system to a point where it can function on its own. Be aggressive about it.

The rationale behind most planting designs is to avoid competition. I love competition. In most sites you can plant at high densities and let the plants compete and thrive in a natural way.. It’s what you see during the first phases of succession. Also workers like these geometrical planting designs because they look great on published reports. Others come also from temperate zones where this kind of designs make more sense in landscapes dominated by few species.

Now with the bird perches. Why use them when there are tons of actual trees and tall shrubs to use instead? you can also choose species that produce fruits to attract the birds. Living fences and minicorridors of plants are also a great way for birds to move on. But whatever you do, please forget artificial bird perches (although a neat construction can impress your friends)


2. Overuse of monocultures of  exotic species 

exotic species


In most sites at Central and South America,  restoration initiatives only use monocultures with exotic species like Eucalyptus and Pinus. The end result are green deserts because these plants often don’t allow any other species to grow, and don’t recover any ecosystem processes at all. Some people do this kind of stuff because they don’t know what else to do, but my guess is most prefer exotic plantations because of greedy interventionism.

How to avoid it: Use native plants. Go to the reference ecosystem and collect seeds, seedlings, do some cuttings.  In the tropics there is an abundant supply of native species to use. The more the better. Some are harder to find but it’s worth the effort. Sometimes it’s valid to use exotic species off course, but for very specific purposes which are out of the discussion here. There are some cool agroforestry examples using timber products that can be applied if that is the best value for the land.



3. Small scale projects with Little connectivity at the landscape level.

You may use native species, plant at high densities, use pioneer species to accelerate succession, but if your project has no connectivity at the landscape level, then it’s lost time. Green islands don’t work. The image below is an isolated forest fragment surrounded by a matrix of croplands.  Probably the good willing farmers gave some naive practitioner that piece of land to “restore it” and have him busy for a few years, so he could not see where the real problems are.

forest fragmentacion


How to avoid it: Restoration projects must be conceived and executed at the landscape level. Working in an isolated area makes no sense. For practitioners, choose and design your projects where it’s feasible to enhance connectivity. It builds resilience in the landscape and avoid extinctions.


Now, do you have other examples of naïve interventionism in restoration?



Ecological restoration in the last years has seen an explosive growth in terms of articles, books and reference materials. This is great news because the interest in the field is increasing but also it’s becoming difficult to start right with good resources that offer the right orientation. Remember that too much information can be misleading and even toxic, and someone new entering into restoration can fall prey of misleading ideas.

This is the reason I have decided to compile the 10 best resources to start right in ecological restoration.  Bear in mind also that ecological restoration is more about practical know-how, so as soon as you have read some of this resources i urge you to volunteer or work in a restoration project near your living area. It’s the best way to learn.

The resources listed are composed of three books, six articles and my number one resource: The Society for Ecological Restoration (SER)  primer on Ecological Restoration. Please start with this one.  The list is in alphabetical order.


1. Aronson, J., S.J Milton & J. Blignaut, Eds. (2007). Restoring Natural Capital: Science, Business and Practice. Island Press, Washington, D.C

This is the big picture.  Restoring natural capital  focuses on defining and maximizing the value and effort of ecological restoration for the benefit of people, thereby helping to mainstream it into daily social and economic activities. It’s the balance we must achieve. I highly recommend you to go and check the website at RNC Alliance and become a member.


2. Cabin, R.J. (2007). Science-driven restoration: A square grid on a round earth?  Restoration Ecology 15: 1-7.

Cabin’s provocative article advocates for a trial-and-error/intelligent tinkering–type approach for restoration to which i totally agree on. He is very critical of the current framework for restoration research with limited applicability in the real world. If you want to expand on Cabin’s ideas you may find useful his book Intelligent tinkering (2011).


3. Clewell, A. F. & Aronson, J. (2013). Ecological Restoration, Second Edition: Principles, Values, and Structure of an Emerging Profession.Island Press, Washington, D.C

The best book on ecological restoration.  Dr. Clewell  is actually one of those few gems that are academic and has worked in actual restoration projects for a long time.  Aronson is to me the biggest thinker in ER this days. He’s a very knowledgeable man, and i highly admire his work.


4. Bradshaw, A.D. (1996). Underlying principles of restoration. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 53(Suppl. 1):3–9.

Certainly one of the first articles to read. The article starts with the difference between restoration and other similar but not equal terminology like reclamation or mitigation. I specially enjoy the section on “restoration as an acid test of our understanding”.


 5. Hobbs, R.J. & D.A. Norton. (1996). Towards a Conceptual Framework for Restoration Ecology. Restoration Ecology Vol. 4. No. 2. pp. 93-110.

A very complete yet concise explanation on restoration ecology. The article is key on its emphasis on restoration at the landscape level.  It is also a reminiscence of Hobbs good work before his “novel ecosystems” craze.


6. [Spanish Resource] Lozano-Zambrano, F.H. (ed).( 2009). Herramientas de manejo para la conservación de biodiversidad en paisajes rurales. Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biologicos Alexander von Humboldt y Corporación Autónoma Regional de Cundinamarca (CAR). Bogotá, D.C, Colombia 238 p.

Herein lies the complete procedures to a succesful ecological restoration project. Want to do a good job? Follow the steps in this book. This is also one of those scarce resources written by actual practitioners in the field, not academic talkers with no skin in the game. You can download it right away here.


 7. Murgueitio, E., Calle, Z., Uribe, F., Calle,A and Solorio B., (2011). Native trees and shrubs for the productive rehabilitation of tropical cattle ranching lands. Forest Ecology and Management 261: 1654–1663

Ecological restoration is a form of land use and not the only one. In this article they integrate forestry, sustainable cattle ranching using intensive silvopastoral systems (ISS) and restoration at the landscape level to make the best use of the land. They are actual practitioners with extensive knowledge and their work is 5 star rated. Check them out  at their organization website CIPAV


8. SER (2004). The SER International Primer on Ecological Restoration. Society for Ecological Restoration International, Science and Policy Working Group.

The number one resource to start in ecological restoration! Here are the principles of the SER to which smart practitioners of the field abide. Read this one and head straight to the field. Written by André Clewell. Download it here.


9.Vieira, D.L.M. & Scariot, A. (2006). “Principles of Natural Regeneration of Tropical Dry Forests for Restoration”, Restoration Ecology, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 11-20

One of the most downloaded articles in the history of the Journal Restoration Ecology.  They show the right way to use science based knowledge and  available information on the ecology of natural regeneration to propose guidelines for restoration initiatives  . Use it as a template for the ecosystem you are working on.


10. Young, T.P., Petersen, D.A. & Clary, J.J. (2005). “The ecology of restoration: historical links, emerging issues and unexplored realms.” Ecology Letters 8, 662-673

Young does a superb job at describing the fundamental ecological concepts that underpin the practice of ecological restoration, such as succession. Also he distinguishes ecological restoration from restoration ecology, which are not the same thing.


So, what do you think of this selection? What i am missing here? what would you take off, and what would you add?



Ecological restoration vs Restoration ecology: Not the same thing.

According to the SER, ecological restoration is “an intentional activity that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem with respect to its health, integrity and sustainability”. That is, ER is an empirical endeavor full of practical know-how. Restoration ecology on the other hand is the theoretical or scientific corpus associated with the restoration practice.  […]

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Christmas bird Count a success in Andean localities.

The christmas bird count is a wonderful activity promoted by the Audubon Society  that takes place every year from December 14 to January 5, where experienced and amateur birders host the  longest running citizen science survey in the world. The census helps for conservation purposes documenting the change in bird populations and distribution of species […]

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The herbarium for plant taxonomy.

There is no institution more important for botanists than the herbarium. In layman terms, it is a collection of dried plants  and you can think of it as a plant library. It provides information and data on everything related to plants, and documents the incredible plant biodiversity on earth. It is the center of all […]

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Biodiversity in Caves and evolution

Caves are a fascinating subject, and through history they’ve been feared, respected, admired but never ignored.  However, it’s biota went a long time unnoticed because naturalists reasoned the conditions were tough to have life in them.  But everything changed with the discovery in 1700 of an eyeless salamander in Eslovaquia when scientists begun to question what else […]

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DNA Barcoding for Plant Taxonomy

A typical 1ha of tropical rainforest may contain about 700 different plant species. Now, if you want to identify them, unless you are Alwyn Gentry that is a big problem.  A taxonomist is a weird creature with almost magical knowledge into the names of plants, and has highly specialized skills and vocabulary. For a diverse […]

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Biodiversity Pro and EstimateS

Here we have two of the best software for measuring biodiversity parameters to assess species richness, like the famous accumulation species curve, and lots of indexes like the Shannon-Wiener, Simpson and Margalef. Also you can measure B diversity with the Jaccard similarity index and other indexes. EstimateS has the Chao-Jaccard Index, which according to Chao […]

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Biodiversity hotspots

A biodiversity hotspot is a geographic area that due to its physical and biological characteristics has high levels of plant endemisms (1500+ vascular plants, 0.5% of the worlds total) and  has to have lost at least 70% of the original habitat. Currently there are  34 biodiversity hotspots and most of them are tropical, but some […]

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Biodiversity surveys

Biodiversity surveys are the most direct way to assess the species diversity of a given area, and data collected with them is priceless. It can help us describe the composition and structure of a landscape, to evaluate conservation priorities,  and to make comparisons and analysis for ecosystem management and diverse disciplines like ecology, biogeography and systematics. […]

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