Hands-On Ecological Restoration as a Nature-Based Health Intervention: Reciprocal Restoration for People and Ecosystems

Gary P. Nabhan, Laura Orlando, Laura Smith Monti, James Aronson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


There is growing concern that lack of access to natural habitats - especially ones with diverse soil microbiota and vegetation - exacerbates individual human and community health problems. Accordingly, practitioners concerned with both human and ecological health have proposed a number of nature-based interventions to improve human health. Two of many promising advances are the Microbiome Rewilding Hypothesis (MRH) and the Psycho-Evolutionary Restoration Hypothesis (PERH). While MRH primarily evaluates whether the restoration of soil microbiota can enhance human gut microbiome health and brain function, PERH tests whether reintroduction of native plant species rich in aromatic phytoncides can reduce depression and lower cortisol levels. Such complementary approaches to the reciprocal restoration of biodiverse habitats and human health are engaging people in nature-based initiatives around the world. We offer examples of programs involving youth directly in ecological restoration activities that may also benefit human health. In particular, we explore how restoring both microbiotic soil crusts and aromatic plant guilds in the urban heat islands - especially in hot, dusty desert cities - can reduce the psychological and physical impacts of diseases such as valley fever, asthma, and other diseases exacerbated by climate change. We report on pioneering tests of indicators of soil microbiome diversity, phytoncide/biogenic volatile organic compound (BVOC) diversity, and youth responses to restoration work that can be monitored concurrently over time. We call for more collaboration among restoration ecologists and ecopsychologists to better determine the ultimate and proximate causes of nature-deficit disorders and the impacts of ecological restoration interventions on physical and mental health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-202
Number of pages8
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • Climate change
  • Ecological restoration
  • Health intervention
  • Microbiome
  • Phytoncides
  • Reciprocal restoration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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