On the Need for Innovation in Ecological Restoration
Society has high expectations regarding the potential of ecological restoration to help confront the global environmental crisis, but the huge gap between restoration science and practice may undermine the recovery of native ecosystems in vast areas of degraded lands. In this paper, we explore the potential application of an innovation approach to bridge the gap between knowledge and action in restoration. The most promising innovation strategy for restoration is the adaptation of solutions developed in other fields of activity, for which market forces have historically supported programs of research and development. However, innovations in restoration may not rely only on technological tools requiring high investments. Rather, there are many opportunities for making better use of the existing funds and for low-cost solutions if restoration science and practice are reframed and integrated. If research projects are conceived to promote a co-production of knowledge with end users, valuable solutions for restoration problems may arise without extra investments. For restoration practice, substantial advances in our capacity to revert degradation could be obtained by shifting the focus from plot-scale, expensive solutions to the promotion of natural regeneration in sites where it is ecologically viable and socioeconomically feasible. For capacity building, promising approaches include emulating other models of technology transfer, mainly those used in agriculture, and fostering the use of web-based solutions. For governance, we recommend the promotion of "policy triggers" and better use of technology to obtain and integrate information. Finally, multi-stakeholder coalitions may contribute by linking these different fields of restoration and promoting the co-creation of solutions in complex socio-ecological systems. Large-scale restoration will not be achieved by the simple sum of small-scale projects implemented by traditional restoration approaches, so innovation can play an utmost role to fulfill the decades-old promise of restoration to reverse degradation at the landscape scale.