Environmental Management

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 445-455

First online:

Ecosystem health: I. Measuring ecosystem health

  • David J. SchaefferAffiliated withDepartment of Veterinary Biosciences, University of Illinois
  • , Edwin E. HerricksAffiliated withDepartment of Civil Engineering, University of Illinois
  • , Harold W. KersterAffiliated withEnvironmental Studies Center, California State University, Sacramento

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Ecosystem analysis has been advanced by an improved understanding of how ecosystems are structured and how they function. Ecology has advanced from an emphasis on natural history to consideration of energetics, the relationships and connections between species, hierarchies, and systems theory. Still, we consider ecosystems as entities with a distinctive character and individual characteristics. Ecosystem maintenance and preservation form the objective of impact analysis, hazard evaluation, and other management or regulation activities. In this article we explore an approach to ecosystem analysis which identifies and quantifies factors which define the condition or state of an ecosystem in terms of health criteria. We relate ecosystem health to human/nonhuman animal health and explore the difficulties of defining ecosystem health and suggest criteria which provide a functional definition of state and condition. We suggest that, as has been found in human/nonhuman animal health studies, disease states can be recognized before disease is of clinical magnitude. Example disease states for ecosystems are functionally defined and discussed, together with test systems for their early detection.

Key words

Impact assessment Environmental analysis Ecosystem processes Ecosystem health Ecoepidemiology Study design assurance