Ecosystem health: I. Measuring ecosystem health

David J. Schaeffer, Edwin E Herricks, Harold W. Kerster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ecosystem analysis has been advanced by an improved understanding of how ecosystems are structured and how they function. Ecology has advanced from an emphasis on natural history to consideration of energetics, the relationships and connections between species, hierarchies, and systems theory. Still, we consider ecosystems as entities with a distinctive character and individual characteristics. Ecosystem maintenance and preservation form the objective of impact analysis, hazard evaluation, and other management or regulation activities. In this article we explore an approach to ecosystem analysis which identifies and quantifies factors which define the condition or state of an ecosystem in terms of health criteria. We relate ecosystem health to human/nonhuman animal health and explore the difficulties of defining ecosystem health and suggest criteria which provide a functional definition of state and condition. We suggest that, as has been found in human/nonhuman animal health studies, disease states can be recognized before disease is of clinical magnitude. Example disease states for ecosystems are functionally defined and discussed, together with test systems for their early detection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)445-455
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1988


  • Ecoepidemiology
  • Ecosystem health
  • Ecosystem processes
  • Environmental analysis
  • Impact assessment
  • Study design assurance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Pollution


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