A key point of discussion around de-extinction and re-wilding projects centers on what, precisely, these projects mean — what conservationists imagine they are contributing to ecosystems or societies with the resurrection of extirpated or extinct species. Proposed guidelines for selecting de-extinction and reintroduction candidates aim to orient projects towards the production of ecologically meaningful outcomes; however, these guidelines focus on functions that were important historically, not necessarily functions that are missing from and relevant for contemporary ecosystems.
This project focuses on the tensions that emerge as restoration projects are simultaneously oriented towards the past and the future. Scientists working on and promoting a variety of de-extinction projects understand resurrected species to be chimeras rather than authentic representations of extinct or endangered species; what then, do these projects imagine will be restored, and how does insight from evolutionary ecology bear on their projections? This project combines attention to the goals of American chestnut restoration — is it cultural or ecological? — with attention to the function of American chestnut — what was it and what might it be?