Assessing ecosystem health Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 20 April 2017

Assessing ecosystem health

The simple summary of the article is shown below.

       Metaphors drawn from human health can be applied in environmental assessment at ecosystem levels; hence the concept of ecosystem medicine may also be appropriate in trying to understand the environment.  By using metaphors one can understand a difficult concept into more known terms since a comparison as to what is common in medicine and in ecosystem. Human use science but they employ art also in appreciating and studying things. As a necessary consequence of using arts or even science  errors in treatment could also happen as there could also be cased of false alarms in diagnosing the environment.

        But for a successful application of the medical concepts in ecosystem, there could be a need have a greater-defined taxonomy of ecosystems to afford a better correlations and analysis of the different variables involved in ecosystems. Taxonomy will allow more definitions of technical terms in ecosystems which could be used by scientists and scholars to make a thorough investigation and analysis.

        The health status of ecosystems in turn could also serve a good barometer to assess the present status or health of the environment. This must be so since the better the ecosystem , the better the environment.

Question: 2.   Write a review of Section 1 (p-15: Introduction) and also indicate important points which the author has talked about to be discuss in the paper; any critique; anything missing?  Any important information we get from this section?  Any interesting thing we get from this section, and do we really find it in the following section?

The simple introduction is shown below.

       The author is saying that whatever the ecosystem now suffers is partly caused by human activity.  He is using a metaphor to convey his message.  That the environment’s health must also be determined like that of a human individual.  Like a human being who is subject to stress, the author illustrates that the ecosystem also suffers from effects of various stresses.  He cited as examples of stresses the following: harvesting, introduction of exotic species, generation of waste residuals, physical restructuring, and even extreme natural events which affect the environment.

Question 3.  Write a review of Section 2 (p-16: Ecosystem: a nebulous concept?)  What do we learn from this Section?  What has author tried to communicate and how successful he has been to communicate?  And also indicate the significance of this section related to this article, if you see any critique to this section then write it with a complete logic?

Is ecosystem a nebulous concept?

       The author is saying that while others my think that term ‘ecosystems’ may be indefinite of meaning  because  of difficulty of delimiting boundaries on the basis of conventional observations.  Ecosystems are not isolated, but intimately connected, or nested within adjacent or larger systems as seen in the continuum from rivers to lakes; from estuaries to the sea; from the sea to the world’s ocean.  The author agrees that for management and assessment, ‘ecosystem’ constitutes a relevant macro-level unit for describing the environment (Rowe, 1961, 1989; Bird & Rapport, 1986).

       The author is very clear in describing the ecosystems as a dynamic, complex, and open systems that are in constant change over ecological, evolutionary, and geological time (Rapport & Regier, 1992), and such they exhibit chameleon-like properties; that is, they might exist in a number of alternative forms, the particular composition being very much influenced by internal dynamics and by interactions with neighboring systems (Holling, 1985; Rapport & Regier, 1992).

Question 4.  Write a review of Section 3 (p-16: Towards an Ecosystem Health Model) what do we learn from this Section?  What has author tried to communicate and how successful he has been to communicate?  And also indicate the significance of this section related to this article, if you see any critique to this section then write it with a complete logic?

The quest for understanding leads to quest for having health ecosystem.

       The author is saying that in the quest for a more comprehensive understanding of the process of ecosystem breakdown and recovery, he has come to think that humans are engaged in some form of ecosystem medicine (Rapport et al., 1979).  He said that introducing the medical metaphor suggests that, like physicians, ecosystem practitioners are in need of systematic procedures by which to recognize illness, devise protocols to ‘rule-in’ or ‘rule-out’ possible causes, and prescribe treatment. (Rapport, 1992) (Paraphrasing made)

       When it comes to treatment, medicine suggests several options: following internal medicine, ecosystems may be treated by regulating the ‘blood chemistry’ of the system; following surgery, ecosystems may be treated by wholesale physical and biological restructuring.  The latter may involve both removal of undesirable elements and introduction (grafting) of desirable ecosystem components.

I should hasten to add that we are concerned here with the application of scientific methodologies developed in medicine in order to assess the state of ecosystem health.  In so doing I neither subscribes to the view that ecosystems can be considered as organisms (for clearly there are not not not not substantive differences in both the mechanisms and degree of integration as well as in the dynamics of these two systems) nor do I suggest.  (Rapport, 1992) (Paraphrasing made)

Question 5.  Write a review of Section 4 (p-17: The subjective nature of health assessments) what do we learn from this Section?  What has author tried to communicate and how successful he has been to communicate?  And also indicate the significance of this section related to this article, if you see any critique to this section then write it with a complete logic?

Subjectivity is employed in assessing the ecosystem.

        The author is equating the subjective judgment used in health assessment as to what is being done in assessing the ecosystem.  He said that clearly, in many cases, the diagnosis and treatment of sickness also uses gut feel or hunches in addition to the scientific way..  Inevitably, there enters a degree of subjectivity in evaluating the health status of an individual or an ecosystem. (Rapport, 1992) (Paraphrasing made)

        The author mentioned some ecosystem transformations that are made without recourse to societal values or limitations of scientific understanding and cited as example the demise of the forest downwind of a smelter.  Nevertheless, he admits that more frequently  social value-judgments and the limitations of science appear  to mix as a form of art.  The author gave as an example the conversion to plantations of radiata pine (Pinus radiata) of highly diversified indigenous forests in New Zealand, where there are opposing view between conservationists and foresters. (Rapport, 1992) (Paraphrasing made)

Question 6.  Write a review of Section 5 (p-18: Early Warning Signs of Pathological Ecosystems) what do we learn from this Section? What has author tried to communicate and how successful he has been to communicate?  And also indicate the significance of this section related to this article, if you see any critique to this section then write it with a complete logic?  (This section should cover all sub sections of the main section, one by one)

Early warning signs of pathological ecosystems have obstacles.

        The author mentioned three obstacles in providing early warning of ecosystem pathology and they are:

Firstly, basic processes such as nutrient cycling and primary productivity, is highly cyclical and irregular, varying from year to year, seasonally and diurnally.  Such variability and seemingly random behavior raises havoc with detection of the onset of much pathology that beset aquatic ecosystems. Secondly, early symptoms of ecosystem degradation may be missed or discovered only after pathology is well advanced. Thirdly, false alarms are easily sounded owing to a still far from adequate understanding of the long-term dynamic behavior of ecosystems.

Ecosystems have common systems of degradation.

       Under section 5.1 on “Health indicators at the ecosystem level,” the author is discussing the identification of common symptoms of ecosystem degradation.  These common symptoms are termed the ‘ecosystem distress syndrome’ (Rapport et al., 1985) and characterize a large number of ecosystems under stresses of various types.  The author citing Rapport, 1991, said that with reference to aquatic ecosystems, the ecosystem distress syndrome comprises the following symptoms: (1) alteration in biotic community structure to favor smaller forms; (2) reduced species diversity; (3) increased dominance by ‘r’ selected species; (4) increased dominance by exotic species; (5) shortened food-chain length; (6) increased disease prevalence; and (7) reduced population stability. (Rapport, 1992) (Paraphrasing made)

Like human diseases, ecosystems have risk factors, too.

        Under section 5.2  on “Ecosystem risk factors,” the author   supports the idea of identification of individuals at risk for certain types of diseases, as those found in coronary disease, which will shift man’s attention from treating illness to prevention.  The author argues that using the same principle of identifying risk in ecosystem, prevention of the ecosystem’s degradation could be prevented. (Rapport, 1992) (Paraphrasing made)

        He believes that this approach works best where a single dominant stress acts to transform ecosystems, such as may occur in the process of eutrophication or acidification of aquatic ecosystems.  He said that much is known about the actions of these two stresses and the vulnerabilities of the recipient aquatic systems (e.g., Minns et al., 1990). He then argued that combining the findings from case studies of impacts of such specific stresses on ecosystems with the knowledge of current stress loadings and sensitivities of recipient ecosystems enables one to arrive at an ecosystem level risk assessment. (Rapport, 1992) (Paraphrasing made)

        He was able to cite the development of various factor analyses similar to the manner in which risks of coronary disease are now assessed in ecosystem health evaluations. He cited the work of Minns et al. (1990) who have examined the impact of acid precipitation on the loss of fish species in vulnerable eastern Canadian lakes. (Rapport, 1992) (Paraphrasing made)

        With these studies the author is really looking forward for the prevention of ecosystem’s degradation.

Validation of treatment for ecosystem is a problem, too.

       Under section 5.3 on “Validation of treatment” the author also talks of validation of treatment which is considered the bottom line for medical practitioners. This premised on the idea that once an illness has been diagnosed, the question turns squarely to the most effective treatment. Treatment validation provides a basis for selection among alternative procedures.

       In applying the medical terminology to the ecosystem, the author said that success rates for a given treatment cannot be evaluated without factoring out the influences of the other stress factors. He cited an example the evaluation of the effectiveness of harvesting regulations on restoring seal populations in the Baltic Sea. He said that it is necessary to take into account impairments to seal reproductive success owing to the presence of PCBs and related toxic substances (Helle et al., 1976).

Here, just as in human medicine, he said, “we have the need to develop methodologies to factor out co-morbidities.”  He mentioned the need for a far better taxonomy of ecosystem ills than we presently have. He said that one currently may describe ecosystem pathologies in terms of air pollution damage to forests, eutrophication of aquatic systems, acidification of aquatic and terrestrial systems, etc. but he said that these are very rudimentary categories. He therefore suggested that for each of these classifications there are many finer subdivisions which need to be categorized before one can readily compare case histories. (Rapport, 1992) (Paraphrasing made)

Question 7. Write a review of Section 6 (p-21: Reporting on the state of environment from an ecosystem health perspective) what do we learn from this Section? What has author tried to communicate and how successful he has been to communicate? And also indicate the significance of this section related to this article, if you see any critique to this section then write it with a complete logic?

Environment could be seen from the health of the ecosystems.

        The author is trying to make a picture of the environment on the basis of the status of the ecosystem. He cited Canada as having subdivided its land areas into 15 ecozones, defined on the basis of Physiographic, vegetation type, soils/surface materials, climate, and human use. He reported that the forests of most ecozones are impacted by a combination of natural and cultural stresses (particularly in the Montaine Cordillera, Boreal Shield, and Atlantic Maritime ecozones).

Included in the stresses is fire, insects and diseases, over-harvesting, conversion of forests to agriculture, construction of transportation and utility corridors, air pollution, and climate-induced stresses such as red belt and wind throw.  He then cited the relationship of increase disease in ecosystems which are more stressed. (Rapport, 1992) (Paraphrasing made)

        The author also mentioned that the other sections of the 1986 Canadian State of Environment Report relate to aquatic ecosystems, both the Laurentian Great Lakes and other Inland Waters, as well as the three marine systems (Atlantic, Pacific and Northern). He also cited that the major stresses affecting these ecosystems include: over-harvesting, construction of dams and diversions, contaminants (including toxic substances), and the purposeful or accidental introduction of exotic species (particularly in the Great Lakes and inland waters). Further, in all but the Northern marine ecosystems, land use change (particularly the drainage of wetlands for agricultural and recreational purposes) and sewage inflows added significant additional stress. (Rapport, 1992) (Paraphrasing made)

Question 8. What do we understand from the Conclusions written on p-23, are they appropriate; any critique; any thing missed in conclusion; any thing over emphasized.

The simple conclusion could be done as shown below.

       We understand from the conclusion that ecosystem behavior under stress is complex and processes leading to degradation and recovery are only partially understood, nonetheless, ecosystem medicine is coming of age at least as a conjectural art. There therefore many challenges along the way. There also a combination of objective and subjective criteria is called into play in rendering judgments as to the health of ecosystems.

       Another thing that  I did understand in the conclusion is that in talking about assessing the ecosystem from a point of view need not involve or borrow concepts from the medical sciences to understand the system but that the author argues that use of the metaphor suggests more systematic approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of ecosystem ills, underscores the importance of validation of remedial action interventions, and draws attention to the inherent subjective nature of health assessments. Further, the metaphor provides a language in which the concern for ecosystem health becomes a natural extension of the concern for individual health

The conclusions drawn are appropriate and does not in any way insist that understanding how to manage the ecosystem be necessarily made reference to the medical science field.  It could be made from different points of view and the advantage of using a field of study to bring out the issues via use of metaphor may contribute much to information campaign.

Question 9.  Is this article helpful in planning and managing environment, if yes how?  If no, why?

What is the relevance of the article in planning and management of the environment?

        I believe this article is helpful in planning and managing environment.  Different persons belong to different professions and different professions have their own languages.  By using metaphor in medicine to discuss ecosystem and the environment, would be getting the member of the medical profession to understand the issues more clearly and to get their support for the cause of the environment

Question 10.  Is the title appropriate, if yes WHY?  if no then suggest some other title, and also justify the title with a logical reasoning.

How show the article be titled appropriately?

         The title evaluating ecosystem health seems not to include treatment on ecosystem treatment.  Since it talks also of treatment the title could be modified as “Evaluating and Maintaining the Ecosystem’s Health.”  By simply saying evaluating it the discussion on treatment should not have been part.


  1. Bird, P. M. & D. J. Rapport, 1986. State of the Environment Report for Canada. Ministry of Supply and Services.263 pp.
  2. Helle, E., M. Olsson & S. Jensen, 1976. PCB levels correlated with pathological changes in seal uteri. Ambio 5: 261–263.
  3. Holling, C. S., 1985. Resilience of ecosystems local surprise and global change. In: T. F. Malone & J. G. Roederer (eds), In Global Change, pp. 292–317. Cambridge Univ.Press, Cambridge.
  4. Minns, C. K., J. E. Moore, D. W. Schindler & M. L. Jones, 1990. Assessing the potential extent of damage to inland lakes in eastern Canada due to acidic deposition. 1V. Predicted impacts on species richness in seven groups of aquatic biota. Can. J. Fish Aquat. Sci. 47: 821–830.
  5. Rapport, D. J., & A. M. Friend, 1979. Towards a comprehensive framework for environmental statistics: a stressresponse approach. Statist. Can., Ottawa.
  6. Rapport, D. J., & H. A. Regier, 1992. Disturbance and stress effects on ecological systems. In: B. C. Patten & S. E.
  7. Rapport, D. J., 1991. Myths in the foundations of economics and ecology. Biol. J. Liimean Soc. 44: 185–202.
  8. Rapport, D. J., H. A. Regier & T. C. Hutchinson, 1985. Ecosystem behaviour under stress. Amer. Natur. 125: 617–640.
  9. Rapport, D., (1992), Evaluating ecosystem health, Journal of Aquatic Ecosystem Health, M. Munawar (ed.), Assessing Aquatic Ecosystem Health: Rationale, Challenges, and Strategies. KluwerAcademic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands
  10. Rowe, J. S., 1961. The level of integration concept and ecology. Ecology 42(2): 420–427.
  11. Rowe, J. S., 1989. Implications of the Brundtland Commission Report for Canadian forest management. Forestry
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