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The ecosystem approach to environmental assessment: moving from theory to practice

Abstract

The “ecosystem approach” to environmental management is viewed by many as being fundamental to the development of appropriate management strategies. While this approach represents a major advance in the way researchers view environmental assessment, the approach in itself does not provide practical information as to what questions to ask and what tools to use in assessing and managing ecosystems. Similarly, the concept of ecosystem health, as it is usually defined, has little practical value for ecosystem managers. We suggest the next stage in environmental assessment will be the development of specific frameworks designed to assess individual ecosystems. Of primary importance is the need to consider the basic structure and function of the ecosystem itself. Such consideration, together with explicit identification of anthropogenic stresses particular to the system, serves to identify those components most at risk and those issues most deserving of attention. Researchers should explore critical linkages between environmental stressors and their observable, measurable and predictable effects on ecological parameters and use this understanding to develop a management strategy that incorporates appropriate ecological indicators. The importance of these considerations will be illustrated using examples from the Northern River Basins Study.

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Wrona, F.J., Cash, K.J. The ecosystem approach to environmental assessment: moving from theory to practice. Journal of Aquatic Ecosystem Health 5, 89–97 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00662797

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00662797

Key words

  • ecosystem health
  • ecological indicators
  • environmental assessment