Ecological integrity is both real and valuable

James R. Karr, Eric R. Larson, Ellen W. Chu

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review


Ecological integrity has been criticized as a “bad fit as a value” for conservation biology and restoration ecology. But work over the past four decades centered on ecological integrity—especially biological integrity—has given rise to effective methods for biological monitoring and assessment to better understand the disintegration of living systems, including under scenarios of rapid climate change. Revealing when and where living systems have been altered by human activity, such methods have been adapted and applied most comprehensively in streams and rivers, but also in other ecosystems, ranging from tropical forests to marine coral reefs and on all continents except Antarctica. Equally important, restoration and maintenance of biological integrity is already a fundamental goal in law and offers an inspiring framework for communication and engagement—among scientists, resource managers, law- and policymakers, and the public. This essay builds the case that ecological integrity has proved both real and valuable as a conservation paradigm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere583
JournalConservation Science and Practice
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2022


  • Clean Water Act
  • beneficial use
  • biological integrity
  • ecological integrity
  • freshwater
  • index of biological integrity (IBI)
  • multimetric index (MMI)
  • reference condition
  • river
  • stream

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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