, Volume 565, Issue 1, pp 289–308 | Cite as

Redefinition and Elaboration of River Ecosystem Health: Perspective for River Management

  • P. VugteveenEmail author
  • R. S. E. W. Leuven
  • M. A. J. Huijbregts
  • H. J. R. Lenders


This paper critically reviews developments in the conceptualization and elaboration of the River Ecosystem Health (REH) concept. Analysis of literature shows there is still no consistent meaning of the central concept Ecosystem Health, resulting in models (i.e. elaborations) that have unclear and insufficient conceptual grounds. Furthermore, a diverse terminology is associated with describing REH, resulting in confusion with other concepts. However, if the concept is to have merit and longevity in the field of river research and management, unambiguous definition of the conceptual meaning and operational domain are required. Therefore a redefinition is proposed, based on identified characteristics of health and derived from considering semantic and conceptual definitions. Based on this definition, REH has merit in a broader context of river system health that considers societal functioning next to ecological functioning. Assessment of health needs integration of measures of multiple, complementary attributes and analysis in a synthesized way. An assessment framework is proposed that assesses REH top-down as well as bottom up by combining indicators of system stress responses (i.e. condition) with indicators identifying the causative stress (i.e. stressor). The scope of REH is covered by using indicators of system activity, metabolism (vigour), resilience, structure and interactions between system components (organization). The variety of stress effects that the system may endure are covered by using biotic, chemical as well as physical stressors. Besides having a unique meaning, the REH metaphor has added value to river management by being able to mobilize scientists, practitioners and publics and seeing relationships at the level of values. It places humans at the centre of the river ecosystem, while seeking to ensure the durability of the ecosystem of which they are an integral part. Optimization of the indicator set, development of aggregation and classification methodologies, and implementation of the concept within differing international frames are considered main aims for future research.


condition indicators ecological integrity ecosystem functioning ecosystem organization stressor indicators sustainability 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. Vugteveen
    • 1
    Email author
  • R. S. E. W. Leuven
    • 1
  • M. A. J. Huijbregts
    • 1
  • H. J. R. Lenders
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental Studies, Institute for Wetland and Water Research, Faculty of ScienceRadboud University NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands

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