Whether the issue is endangered species and threatened water supplies or newly emerging diseases and national security, understanding patterns and trends in Earth's ecosystems is essential to informed public policy. Consider that despite well-orchestrated efforts to
Supporting Nutrient cycling Soil formation 1° and 2° production Decomposition Waste absorption
Regulating Climate regulation Flood regulation Disease regulation Water purification Air purification
Figure 2 Four major categories of ecosystem services with examples from each category. Modified from Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Biodiversity Synthesis. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute, with permission from United Nations Enviornment Programme.
downplay the potentially deadly effects of tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption, health indicators have helped mobilize changes in individual and collective behavior. Similarly, improved ecological indicators can help overcome special interests that insist on denying the importance of ecological concerns or the need for ecological indicators.
Ecological indicators can do more than simply describe or characterize the condition, or trends in condition, of places. From a technical and scientific perspective, monitoring ecological indicators provides a continuous stream of data that can improve overall understanding of the monitored ecosystems. Interpreting ecological indicators can aid in diagnosing the causes of ecological degradation.
Ecological indicators also educate. They inform scientists, the public, and politicians about the environmental, social, human health, and economic consequences of changing ecological conditions. Because ecological systems are so complex, carefully selected indicators can help raise awareness about the state of our world and communicate complicated scientific issues. In the public policy arena, ecological indicators can guide strategic planning because they provide measurable objectives for developing program or legislative goals that take ecological context into account. They can also establish criteria for determining compliance with laws and regulations with a direct effect on ecological outcomes.
Some of the most intractable challenges human society will face in the twenty-first century will come from the declining condition of Earth's diverse ecosystems. No single set of indicators - economic or ecological - will be enough to resolve the debates and dislocations that are likely to take place. Ecological indicators can and will play a substantial role in informing those debates and turning decisions in a direction that can protect Earth's ecosystems and the human society that depends on them. Humanity needs to return from its collective ecological amnesia toward ecological awareness, from regulation toward stewardship, and from conservation and land acquisition toward the sustainability of life on Earth. And we need ecological indicators to do it.
See also: Anthropospheric and Anthropogenic Impact on the Biosphere; Benthic Response Index; Biological Integrity; Coastal and Estuarine Environments; Driver-Pressure-State-Impact-Response; Ecological Economics; Ecosystem Health Indicators; Emergy; Environmental Impact Assessment and Application Part - 1; Environmental Impact Assessment and Application - Part 2; Fishes as Indicators of Estuarine Health and Estuarine Importance; Gaia Hypothesis; Pollution Indices.
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