, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 135-145

Ecosystem approaches to environmental quality assessment

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Environmental quality assessment has to focus more on the quality of whole ecosystems, instead of focusing on the direct effects of a specific stressor, because of a more integrated environmetal policy approach. Yet, how can the ecosystem quality be measured? Partly this is a normative question, a question of what is considered good and bad. At the same time, it is a scientific question, dealing with the problem of low the state of a system as complex as an ecosystem could be measured. Measuring all abiotic and biotic components, not to mention their many relationships, is not feasible. In this article we review several approaches dealing with this scientific question. Three approaches are distinguished; they differ in type of variable set and ecosystem model used. As a result of this, the information about the state of the ecosystem differs: ultimate breadth, comprising information about the whole ecosystem, is at the expense of detail, while ultimate detail is at the expense of breadth. We discuss whether the resultant quality assessments differ in character and are therefore suitable to answer different policy questions.