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Restoration ecology emerged as a separate field in ecology in the 1980s. It is the scientific study supporting the practice of ecological restoration, which is the practice of renewing and restoring degraded, damaged, or destroyed ecosystems and habitats in the environment by active human intervention and action. Restoration ecology is therefore commonly used for the academic study of the process, whereas ecological restoration is commonly used for the actual project or process by restoration practitioners.
The Society for Ecological Restoration defines "ecological restoration" as an "intentional activity that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem with respect to its health, integrity and sustainability". The practice of ecological restoration includes a wide scope of projects such as erosion control, reforestation, usage of genetically local native species, removal of non-native species and weeds, revegetation of disturbed areas, daylighting streams, reintroduction of native species, as well as habitat and range improvement for targeted species.
E. O. Wilson, a biologist states that: "Here is the means to end the great extinction spasm. The next century will, I believe, be the era of restoration in ecology."
Land managers, laypeople, and stewards have been practicing ecological restoration or ecological management for many hundreds, if not thousands, of years, yet the scientific field of "restoration ecology" was not first formally identified and coined until the late 1980s, by John Aber and William Jordan when they were at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Around this time enviromental disasters caused by industry were taking place motivating people toward restoration. They held the first international meetings on this topic in Madison during which attendees visited the University of Wisconsin's Arboretum—the oldest restoration ecology project made famous by Professor Aldo Leopold. The study of restoration ecology has only become a robust and independent scientific discipline over the last two decades, and the commercial applications of ecological restoration have tremendously increased in recent years.
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