Ecosystem Health Assessment and Indicators

The idea of ecosystem health assessment (EHA) has started in the late 1980s. Since then, there have been wide discussions about adequate concepts and methodologies. As the individual ecosystems are never identical with reference to basic features, it is challenging to find general and reproducible approaches instead of case-specific techniques. Furthermore, appropriate assessments have to bridge the gaps between natural, socioeconomical, and health sciences and to integrate human norms and values with the aim to support sustainable management of natural resources.

As ecosystem health cannot be measured or observed directly, surrogate measures (indicators) have to be applied to assess it. These indicators should be backed by ecological principles and systems theory. They should be suitable for applications on varying temporal and spatial scales. Parameters needed for their quantification have to be obtainable and reproducible within ecological assessments. Moreover, indicators have to give adequate information about ecosystem quality trends, useful for managers and scientists that take into account the complex cause and effect chains in human-environmental systems. Different values and processes have to be integrated in order to assess the health of an ecosystem in relation to economic and social aspects, regional and global environmental changes, and alteration in the provision of ecosystem services and their consequences for human well-being.

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