Original Contribution


, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 278-287

First online:

Aldo Leopold’s Land Health from a Resilience Point of View: Self-renewal Capacity of Social–Ecological Systems

  • Fikret BerkesAffiliated withNatural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba Email author 
  • , Nancy C. DoubledayAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, McMaster University
  • , Graeme S. CummingAffiliated withPercy FitzPatrick Institute, DST/NRF Centre of Excellence, University of Cape Town

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Health approaches to ecology have a strong basis in Aldo Leopold’s thinking, and contemporary ecohealth in turn has a strong philosophical basis in Leopold. To commemorate the 125th anniversary of Leopold’s birth (1887–1948), we revisit his ideas, specifically the notions of stewardship (land ethic), productive use of ecosystems (land), and ecosystem renewal. We focus on Leopold’s perspective on the self-renewal capacity of the land, as understood in terms of integrity and land health, from the contemporary perspective of resilience theory and ecological theory more generally. Using a broad range of literature, we explore insights and implications of Leopold’s work for today’s human–environment relationships (integrated social–ecological systems), concerns for biodiversity, the development of agency with respect to stewardship, and key challenges of his time and of ours. Leopold’s seminal concept of land health can be seen as a triangulation of productive use, self-renewal, and stewardship, and it can be reinterpreted through the resilience lens as the health of social–ecological systems. In contemporary language, this involves the maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and the ability to exercise agency both for conservation and for environmental justice.


Aldo Leopold ecosystem health resilience theory environmental ethics environmental health