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Ecosystem Health

Ecosystem health is a systematic approach to the preventive, diagnostic, and prognostic aspects of ecosystem management, and to the understanding of relationships between ecosystem health and human health. Under the watershed concept, ecosystem health addresses major ecological issues such as urbanization, rural development, agriculture, biodiversity and wildlife habitat.

Teachers and their classes can determine indicators of ecosystem health in their schoolyards or study sites, then make their observations based on these factors.

...the idea of [ecosystem] health can enrich scientific thought with the values and judgments that make science a useful and durable human endeavor.

—David Ehrenfeld

In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold challenges us to consider the "health" (which he refers to as "the capacity for internal self-renewal") of the "land organism" just as we consider the health of individual organisms. "Symptoms of sickness in the land," he argues, include "the disappearance of plant and animal species without visible cause, despite efforts to protect them, and the irruption of others as pests despite efforts to control them."

To what extent does it make sense to talk about the "health" of the land, or of a particular place or ecosystem? How might we know if a particular ecosystem is "healthy" or "sick"? What might we be able to improve the health of a particular habitat or ecosystems?

Health is an idea that transcends scientific definition. It contains values, which are not amenable to scientific methods of exploration but are no less important or necessary because of that. Health is a bridging concept connecting two worlds—it is not operational within science if you try to pin it down, yet it can help foster the necessary process of enabling scientists and nonscientists to communicate with each other... If used with care within ecology, the idea of health can enrich scientific thought with the values and judgments that make science a useful and durable endeavor.

From: Beginning Again: People and Nature in the New Millennium
by David Ehrenfeld. Copyright 1993 by Oxford University Press, Inc.

Ecosystem Health as an Integrative Concept

Many educators have found the concept of ecosystem health useful for engaging students in study and management of their local environments.

Use these activities to explore ecosystem health as an integrative concept:

For More Information: Ecosystem Health Resource List