Skip to main content

Indicators of ecosystem recovery

Abstract

Assessment of ecological changes relative to disturbance, either natural or human-induced, confronts a fundamental problem. Ecosystems are complex, variable, and diverse in nature; consequently, the need for simplification to essential features that would characterize ecosystems adequately is generally acknowledged. Yet there is no firm prescription for what to measure in order to describe the response and recovery of ecosystems to stress. Initial focus is provided by identifying relevant ecological endpoints, i.e., ecological changes of particular relevance to humans. Furthermore, we suggest generic purposes and criteria to be considered in making choices of ecological indicators that relate to those endpoints. Suites of indicators, with variety of purposes, are required to assess response and recovery of most ecosystems and most stresses. We suggest that measures of certain ecosystem processes may provide special insight on the early stages of recovery; the use of functional indicators as complimentary to other biotic indicators is highlighted in an extended example for lotic ecosystems.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Literature Cited

  • Amoros, C., J. C. Rostan, G. Pautou, and J. P. Bravard. 1987. The reversible process concept applied to the environmental management of large river systems.Environmental Management 11(5):607–617.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Baker, J. M. 1973. Recovery of salt marsh vegetation from successive oil spillages.Environmental Pollution 4:223–230.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dubos, R. 1981. A conversation with Rene Dubos.U.S. News and World Report February 23:72–73.

    Google Scholar 

  • Egglishaw, H. J. 1972. An experimental study of the breakdown of cellulose in fast-flowing streams.Memorie Istituto Italiano di Idrobiologia 29(suppl):405–428.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Forbes, S. A. 1887. The lake as a microcosm.Bulletin, Peoria Scientific Association (reprinted 1925.Bulletin, Illinois State Laboratory of Natural History) 481–574.

  • Ford, J. 1989. The effects of chemical stress on aquatic species composition and community structure. Pages 99–144in S. A. Levin, M. A. Harwell, J. R. Kelly, and K. D. Kimball (eds.), Ecotoxicology: problems and approaches. Springer-Verlag, New York. 547 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Harris, G. P. 1980. Temporal and spatial scales in phytoplankton ecology, Mechanisms, methods, models, and management.Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 37:877–900.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harwell, C. C. 1989. Regulatory framework for ecotoxicology. Pages 497–516in S. A. Levin, M. A. Harwell, J. R. Kelly, K. D. Kimball (eds.), Ecotoxicology: problems and approaches. Springer-Verlag, New York, 547 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Harwell, M. A., W. P. Cropper, Jr., and H. L. Ragsdale. 1978. Nutrient cycling and stability: A reevaluation.Ecology 58:660–666.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harwell, M. A., W. P. Cropper, Jr., and H. L. Ragsdale. 1981. Analyses of transient characteristics of a nutrient cycling model.Ecological Modelling 12:105–131.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harwell, M. A., C. C. Harwell, and J. R. Kelly. 1986. Regulatory endpoints, ecological uncertainties, and environmental decision-making. Oceans 86 Proceedings 3:993–998. Marine Technology Society, Washington, DC.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harwell, M. A., C. C. Harwell, D. A. Weinstein, and J. R. Kelly. 1987. Anthropogenic stresses on ecosystems: issues and indicators of response and recovery. Ecosystems Research Center-153, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. 32 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hutchinson, T. C., and W. Freedman. 1978. Effects of experimental spills on subarctic boreal forest vegetation near Norman Wells, N.W.T., Canada.Canadian Journal of Botany 56:2424–2433.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kelly, J. R. 1989. Ecotoxicology and beyond sensitivity: a case study involving ‘unreasonableness’ of environmental change. Pages 473–496in S. A. Levin, M. A. Harwell, J. R. Kelly, and K. D. Kimball (eds.), Ecotoxicology: problems and approaches. Springer-Verlag, New York. 547 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kelly, J. R., and M. A. Harwell. 1989. Indicators of ecosystem response and recovery. Pages 9–39in S. A. Levin, M. A. Harwell, J. R. Kelly and K. D. Kimball (eds.), Ecotoxicology: problems and approaches. Springer-Verlag, New York. 547 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kelly, J. R., and S. A. Levin. 1986. A comparison of aquatic and terrestrial nutrient cycling and production processes in natural ecosystems, with reference to ecological concepts of relevance to some waste disposal issues. Pages 165–203in G. Kullenberg (ed.), The role of the oceans as a waste disposal option. NATO Advanced Research Workshop Series. D. Reidel Publishing, Dordrecht, Holland.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kelly, J. R., V. B. Berounsky, C. A. Oviatt, and S. W. Nixon. 1985. Benthic nutrient cycling across an experimental eutrophication gradient.Marine Ecological Progress Series 26:207–219.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kelly, J. R., T. W. Duke, M. A. Harwell, and C. C. Harwell. 1987. An ecosystem perspective on potential impacts of drilling fluid discharges on seagrasses.Environmental Management 11(4):537–562.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Kelly, J. R., S. N. Levine, L. A. Buttel, K. A. Carr, D. T. Rudnick, and R. D. Morton. 1990. Tributyltin effects within aThalassia seagrass ecosystem.Estuaries 13(3):301–310.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Kolkowitz, R., and M. Marsson. 1908. Okologie der pflanzlichen Saprobien.Berichte der Deutschen Botanischen Gesellschaft 26a:505–519 (Translated 1967. Ecology of plant saprobia. Pages 47–52in L. E. Keup, W. M. Ingram, and K. M. Mackenthum (eds.), Biology of water pollution. Federal Water Pollution Control Administration, United States Department of the Interior, Washington, DC.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lehman, J. T. 1986. The goal of understanding in limnology.Limnology and Oceanography 31:1160–1166.

    Google Scholar 

  • Levin, S. A. 1987. Scale and predictability in ecological modeling. Pages 1–8in T. L. Vincent, Y. Cohen, W. J. Grantham, G. P. Kirkwood, and J. M. Skowronski (eds.), Modeling and management of resources under uncertainty. Lecture notes in biomathematics 72. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

    Google Scholar 

  • Levin, S. A., K. D. Kimball, W. H. McDowell, and S. H. Kimball (eds.). 1984. New perspectives in ecotoxicology.Environmental Management 8(5):375–442.

    Google Scholar 

  • Levin, S. A., M. A. Harwell, J. R. Kelly, and K. D. Kimball (eds.). 1989. Ecotoxicology: problems and approaches. Springer-Verlag, New York. 547 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Likens, G. E. 1983. A priority for ecological research.Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 64:234–243.

    Google Scholar 

  • Limburg, K. E., S. A. Levin, and C. C. Harwell. 1986a. Ecology and estuarine impact assessment: lessons learned from the Hudson River and other estuarine experiences.Journal of Environmental Management 22:255–280.

    Google Scholar 

  • Limburg, K. E., M. A. Moran, and W. H. McDowell. 1986b. The Hudson River ecosystem. Springer-Verlag, New York. 331 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Miller, P. L. 1973. Oxidant-induced community change in a mixed conifer forest. Pages 101–117in J. A. Naegle (ed.), Air pollution damage to vegetation. Advanced chemistry series No. 122. American Chemical Society, Washington, DC.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nemerow, N. L. 1985. Stream, lake, estuary, and ocean pollution. Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York. 444 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Noble, I. R., and R. O. Slatyer. 1980. The use of vital attributes to predict successional changes in plant communities subject to recurrent disturbances.Vegetatio 43:5–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • O'Neill, R. V., D. L. DeAngelis, J. B. Waide, and T. F. H. Allen. 1986. A hierarchical concept of ecosystems.Monographs in Population Biology 23, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. 253 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Oviatt, G. A., M. E. Q. Pilson, S. W. Nixon, J. B. Frithsen, D. T. Rudnick, J. R. Kelly, J. F. Grassle, and J. P. Grassle. 1984. Recovery of a polluted estuarine system: a mesocosm experiment.Marine Ecology Progress Series 16:203–217.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Paine, R. T. 1974. Intertidal community structure: experimental studies on the relationship between a dominant competitor and its principal predator.Oecologia 15:93–120.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Paine, R. T. 1980. Food webs: linkage, interaction strength, and community infrastructure.Journal of Animal Ecology 49:667–685.

    Google Scholar 

  • Patrick, R. 1949. A proposed biological measure of stream conditions based on a survey of the Conestoga Basin, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.Proceedings of Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 101:277–341.

    Google Scholar 

  • Peters, R. H. 1986. The role of prediction in limnology.Limnology and Oceanography 31:1143–1159.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rapport, D. J., H. A. Regier, and T. C. Hutchinson. 1985. Ecosystem behavior under stress.American Naturalist 125(5):617–640.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Robison, F. L. 1961. Floods in New York, magnitude and frequency. Geological Survey Circular 454, USD Department of Interior, US Geological Survey, Washington, DC. 10 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schindler, D. W. 1987. Detecting ecosystem responses to stress.Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 44(suppl 1):6–25.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schindler, D. W., K. H. Mills, D. F. Malley, D. L. Findlay, J. A. Shearer, I. J. Davies, M. A. Turner, G. A. Linsey, and D. R. Cruikshank. 1985. Long-term ecosystem stress: the effects of years of experimental acidification on a small lake.Science 228:1395–1401.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Steele, J. H. (ed.). 1978. Spatial pattern in plankton communities. NATO Conference Series IV: Marine Sciences, Vol. 3. Plenum Press, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stommel, H. 1963. Varieties of oceanographic experience.Science 139:572–576.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Suter, R., and E. Moore. 1922. Stream pollution studies. State of New York Conservation Commission Report. J. B. Lyon Printers, Albany, New York. 27 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  • US EPA 1985. Technical support document for water quality-based toxics control. Office of Water, Washington, DC EPA-440/4-85-032.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ward, H. B. 1919. Stream pollution of New York State: a preliminary investigation of the problem from the standpoint of the biologist. State of New York Conservation Commission Report, J. B. Lyon Printers, Albany, New York. 79 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Webster, J. R., J. B. Waide, and B. C. Patten. 1975. Nutrient recycling and the stability of ecosystems. Pages 1–27in F. G. Howell, J. B. Gentry, and M. H. Smith (eds.), Mineral cycling in southeastern ecosystems. National Technical Information Service. Springfield, Virginia. ERDA CONF-740513.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Kelly, J.R., Harwell, M.A. Indicators of ecosystem recovery. Environmental Management 14, 527–545 (1990). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02394708

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02394708

Key words

  • Ecological indicators
  • Stress
  • Scale
  • Recovery
  • Ecosystem processes