Ecological Integrity and Ecological Health Are Not the Same

James R. Karr

The Folly of the Status Quo

Environmental issues are not merely a concern of extremists; healthy biological systems are critical to the success, perhaps even survival, of the human species. Although notable progress has been made in a few areas of environmental protection (e.g., agreement to limit CFC releases), current planning programs and legislative initiatives are not adequate to protect natural or human environments.

The complex reasons for failure center on the hubris of a society that behaves as if it could repeal the laws of nature, Plans generated by economists, technologists, engineers, and ecologists have too often assumed that lost or damaged components of ecological systems are unimportant or can be repaired or replaced. We see the consequences of this attitude everywhere. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, hatcheries are built to sustain salmonid stocks while minimal effort is made to restore degraded habitat, reduce excessive harvests, or protect seasonal river flow. Throughout the world, expensive fertilizers are added to replace nutrients in depleted soils. Groundwater is depleted to supply unsustainable amounts of water. These and other examples demonstrate the folly of maintaining the status quo.

Interdisciplinary initiatives seeking to improve environmental policy are cropping up in many contexts. These initiatives are driven by goals such as environmental justice (Bullard, 1994), protection of biodiversity (Wilson, 1992), and pollution control (Colborn and Clement, 1992); they are grounded in concepts such as ecological economics (Costanza, 1991; Jansson et al., 1994), conservation biology (Meffe and Carroll, 1994), and industrial ecology (Allenby and



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--> Ecological Integrity and Ecological Health Are Not the Same James R. Karr The Folly of the Status Quo Environmental issues are not merely a concern of extremists; healthy biological systems are critical to the success, perhaps even survival, of the human species. Although notable progress has been made in a few areas of environmental protection (e.g., agreement to limit CFC releases), current planning programs and legislative initiatives are not adequate to protect natural or human environments. The complex reasons for failure center on the hubris of a society that behaves as if it could repeal the laws of nature, Plans generated by economists, technologists, engineers, and ecologists have too often assumed that lost or damaged components of ecological systems are unimportant or can be repaired or replaced. We see the consequences of this attitude everywhere. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, hatcheries are built to sustain salmonid stocks while minimal effort is made to restore degraded habitat, reduce excessive harvests, or protect seasonal river flow. Throughout the world, expensive fertilizers are added to replace nutrients in depleted soils. Groundwater is depleted to supply unsustainable amounts of water. These and other examples demonstrate the folly of maintaining the status quo. Interdisciplinary initiatives seeking to improve environmental policy are cropping up in many contexts. These initiatives are driven by goals such as environmental justice (Bullard, 1994), protection of biodiversity (Wilson, 1992), and pollution control (Colborn and Clement, 1992); they are grounded in concepts such as ecological economics (Costanza, 1991; Jansson et al., 1994), conservation biology (Meffe and Carroll, 1994), and industrial ecology (Allenby and

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--> Richards, 1994; Richards and Fullerton, 1994). A core societal vision should be integrating all these initiatives to protect ecological integrity (Karr, 1993; Westra, 1994) and ecological health (Costanza et al., 1992; Rapport et al., 1994). Ecologists and engineers alike must become more aware of the need to protect biological systems as integral components of human welfare; ecologists as well as engineers must better understand and respond to societal needs. Failure to do so holds ominous consequences. Growing Environmental Concerns For most of the twentieth century, the most visible demonstration of public concern for the environment was the conservation movement in the developed world. But voices now coming from all corners of society draw attention to the severity of present ecological crises. A Health of the Planet Survey by the Gallup Organization (Dunlap et al., 1993) asked more than 28,000 individuals in 24 countries (including industrialized and developing nations) about their environmental attitudes. The results show "strong public concern for environmental protection throughout the world, including regions where it was assumed to be absent." Scholars too are calling for shifts in human behavior. A worldwide collection of 1,575 scientists, including 99 Nobel Prize winners, noted that "human beings and the natural world are on a collision course.... A great change in our stewardship of the earth, and life on it, is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated" (Union of Concerned Scientists, 1992). In the same year, the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of London (1992) issued a joint statement recognizing the need for industrial countries to modify their behavior radically to avoid irreversible damage to the earth's capacity to sustain life. A 1993 Population Summit held in New Delhi explored issues of population growth, resource consumption, socioeconomic development, and environmental protection; 58 of the world's national academies of sciences (Science Summit, 1993) called for action to turn 1994 into "the year when the people of the world decided to act together for the benefit of future generations." The Ecological Society of America (Lubchenco et al., 1991) and the International Association of Ecology (Huntley et al., 1991) called for research initiatives to move society toward sustainable use of ecological resources; so have Sigma Xi (1992) and the Carnegie Commission (1992a,b,c; 1993). Universities and governments have also joined the chorus. In the 1990 Talloires Declaration (Cortese, 1993), the leaders of hundreds of universities from throughout the world expressed their deep concern "about the unprecedented scale and speed of environmental pollution and degradation, and the depletion of natural resources." The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro was an unprecedented gathering of representatives from 170 nations (the largest meeting ever

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--> of world leaders) and grassroots organizations to explore international dimensions of environmental issues and define steps necessary to run our economies and secure our future (Center for Our Common Future, 1993). Business and labor also recognize the need for change. Forty-eight international industrialists and business leaders from more than 25 countries recently called for renewed efforts by business and government to make ecological imperatives part of the market forces governing production, investment, and trade (Schmidheiny and Timberlake, 1992). In 1990 the Sunday Times of London reported (Fallon, 1990): "Sir James Goldsmith--corporate predator extraordinary, scourge of board rooms, one of the most feared men on Wall Street--[is] retiring from business. From now on, he said, he would devote his energies and much of his fortune of more than $1 billion to ecological and environmental causes." Great wealth, the 57-year-old billionaire argued, was of no value in a crumbling world. The United Steelworkers of America (1990) overwhelmingly endorsed a report that says, "We cannot protect steelworker jobs by ignoring environmental problems." Further, the "greatest threat to our children's future may lie in the destruction of their environment," and "the environment outside the workplace is only an extension Of the environment inside." At the August 1993 Parliament of World's Religions (Briggs, 1993), the leaders of Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and other faiths developed a ''global ethic." Among other things, that ethic condemns environmental abuses. In an age of unparalleled technological progress, poverty, hunger, the death of children, ''and the destruction of nature have not diminished but rather have increased." A recent report by the Commission on Life Sciences of the National Research Council (1993) concludes that science and engineering provide many "tools to address environmental problems of enormous consequence to our social and economic well-being. But we are not using those tools most effectively." The Problem of Biotic Impoverishment These organizations and the constituencies they represent recognize that all is not well on planet Earth; planetary life-support systems critical to human society are threatened. The threat is loss of biological integrity, or biotic impoverishment--the systematic reduction in the earth's ability to support living systems. Important aspects of biotic impoverishment include the following (Karr, 1995a): Soil depletion, decertification, and salinization Depletion of renewable natural resources (e.g., forests and fisheries) Depletion and contamination of water supplies Extinction of species Habitat destruction and fragmentation

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--> Alteration of global biogeochemical cycles Epidemics and pest outbreaks Introduction of exotic species Chemical contamination Global climate change; ozone depletion Reduction in human cultural diversity Reduced quality of human life and economic deprivation Environmental injustice and racism Collectively, this broad sweep of issues illustrates the magnitude of the environmental challenge facing all members of the human community. It also reminds us of the close association and common underpinning of environmental and social concerns. The loss of species, the destruction of agricultural lands, and the differential exposure of economically disadvantaged people to environmental hazards degrade the quality of human life. As human influence expands, the limits of technology, especially unintended consequences of technology, become more obvious. Depletion of water supplies cannot be "fixed" by science's making water to refill aquifers. Citizens and political leaders, engineers and ecologists must work together to develop creative solutions; failure to do that will relegate the world to continued biotic impoverishment and threaten the sustainability of human society. Ecological Integrity and Ecological Health If biotic impoverishment is the problem, then protecting the integrity of biological systems must be the goal. But how do we define biological integrity in a world that is increasingly altered by the actions of humans? How do we reconcile the inevitable changes required to accommodate a growing human population and the proliferation of modern technology while guarding the planet from irrevocable biotic impoverishment? Answering these questions in clear and explicit terms is especially important as we seek to bring scholars from diverse disciplines together to focus on common problems. What do health and integrity mean? What kind of health or integrity do we seek? Are we seeking "environmental health," or is that phrase too narrowly associated with human health? As a societal goal, biological integrity suggests a meaning beyond human health. The sum of physical, chemical, and biological integrity is ecological integrity (Karr and Dudley, 1981). Restoring and maintaining the "physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters" has been a goal of the Clean Water Act in the United States since 1972 and of the International Joint Commission (U.S. and Canada) on the Great Lakes. "Maintenance of ecological integrity" is the first priority of the amendment to Canada's National Park Act passed by Parliament in 1988. Integrity implies an unimpaired condition or the quality or state of being

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--> complete or undivided; it implies correspondence with some original condition. Biological integrity (Angermeier and Karr, 1994; Frey, 1975; Karr and Dudley, 1981; Karr et al., 1986) refers to the capacity to support and maintain a balanced, integrated, adaptive biological system having the full range of elements (genes, species, assemblages) and processes (mutation, demography, biotic interactions, nutrient and energy dynamics, and metapopulation processes) expected in the natural habitat of a region. Although somewhat long-winded, this definition carries the message that (1) biology acts over a variety of scales from individuals to landscapes, (2) biology includes items one can count (the elements of biodiversity) plus the processes that generate and maintain them, and (3) biology is embedded in dynamic evolutionary and biogeographic contexts. An evolutionary foundation ties the concept of integrity to a benchmark against which society can evaluate sites altered by human actions. The complex biological systems that evolved at a site have already demonstrated their ability to persist in, even modify, the region's physical and chemical environment. Their very presence means that they are resilient to the normal variation in that environment. Species abundance, for example, changes as a function of changes in the physical environment and in interactions among species in a local assemblage. But the bounds over which systems change as a result of most natural events are limited when compared with the changes imposed by human activities such as row-crop agriculture, urbanization, or dam construction. Human society sets aside extensive areas as parks and reserves to protect their natural state or integrity. Those areas deserve protection because of the diverse values they provide to society. Water bodies, including both surface and groundwaters, deserve special protection as well, because they provide water to society and support recreational and other values. Further, they are the lifelines of a continent, reflecting the condition of surrounding landscapes, linking landscapes across great distances. Few places maintain a biota with evolutionary and biogeographic integrity because of the demands of feeding, clothing, and housing more than 5.7 billion people. The growth of human populations in the last few centuries has made the human species the principal driver of change on Earth. Humans appropriate the equivalent of 40 percent of Earth's annual terrestrial production (Vitousek et al., 1986). Providing for that human population requires massive alteration of the planet in ways that preclude a return to the pristine environments of the pre-industrial era. Thus, biological integrity is lost on a large share of the planet and is unlikely to be regained. Yet loss of ecological integrity for all lands and waters in all regions of the world is unacceptable on scientific, economic, aesthetic, and ethical grounds. Health, on the other hand, implies a flourishing condition, well-being, vitality, or prosperity. An organism is healthy when it performs all its vital functions normally and properly; a healthy organism is resilient, able to recover from many stresses; a healthy organism requires minimal outside care. The concept of health

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--> applies to individual organisms as well as to national or regional economies, industries, and natural resources such as fisheries. Ecological health describes the goal for the condition at a site that is cultivated for crops, managed for tree harvest, stocked for fish, urbanized, or otherwise intensively used. At these sites, integrity in an evolutionary sense cannot be the goal. Healthy land use, with or without active management, should not degrade the site for future use or degrade areas beyond the site. Soils, for example, should not be eroded or otherwise transformed to reduce future productivity (see Pimentel, 1993). Groundwater should not be depleted. Land use should not have deleterious effects beyond a site; atmospheric contamination should not result in downwind effects, such as increased greenhouse gases or ozone depletion. Healthy sites should not release contaminants or eroded soils that degrade sites elsewhere. Using these two criteria--no degradation of the site for future use and no degradation of areas beyond the site--most modem agricultural and urban land use, for example, is not sustainable. Recognition of that reality is the foundation for recent initiatives for sustainable communities and sustainable agriculture. Failure to protect the ecological health of intensively used lands is also unacceptable on scientific, economic, aesthetic, and ethical grounds. We have no choice but to develop a conceptual framework to define acceptable and sustainable uses. These concepts are easily applied to small parcels of land. Scaling up to large landscapes presents a serious challenge. What proportion of a landscape should be protected under a biological integrity goal? The World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) recommended 12 percent, but that seems inadequate. Does that proportion vary among regional ecosystem types (e.g., desert, forest, or grassland)? Do water bodies, fragile sites, or sites with the highest biodiversity deserve the highest priority for protection? Measuring Health and Integrity Neither ecologists nor engineers have been especially adept at defining or measuring either ecological health or ecological integrity. The track record of freshwater management provides an instructive example. Human society depends on freshwater as well as the resources associated with freshwater and marine systems. Yet 55 countries now have populations that equal or exceed the ability of their national territory to provide an adequate supply of freshwater (Ozturk, 1995). Improved water conservation, treatment and recycling programs can delay the crisis, but growing human populations will keep society on a treadmill trying to keep up with expanding demand. Even where the supply of water remains adequate, resource degradation continues because society chronically undervalues the products and services provided by aquatic ecosystems. Although rivers are in many ways the lifeblood of society, prevalent attitudes

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--> toward rivers reflect disdain for their value and arrogance about our ability to replace or repair them. Despite the mandate in the Clean Water Act for protecting the integrity of the nation's waters, for example, it took nearly two decades to begin to incorporate that concept into water resource protection, largely because appropriate benchmarks were not defined for evaluating success in attaining those goals. That failure leads to six "realities" about the condition of water resources (Karr, 1995b). 1.   Water resources, especially their biological components, are in steep decline. The proportion of aquatic organisms at risk of extinction is considerably higher than that of terrestrial organisms (Angermeier and Karr, 1994; Masters, 1990). The spread of exotics and the decline of native species are common to waters throughout the United States. Fish consumption advisories are issued each year in more than 40 states, and riparian corridors along U.S. streams have been destroyed in most areas. Despite strong mandates and massive expenditures to protect "the physical, chemical, and biological integrity" of the nation's waters, signs of continuing degradation are pervasive within individual rivers, the continent, and the globe. 2.   Degradation stems from more than chemical contamination, the primary focus of conventional water-quality programs. The assumption that monitoring for chemical contaminants ensures chemical, physical, and biological integrity is flawed. Society wastes money and degrades resources because decisions based on chemical criteria do not adequately protect water quality. Priority lists of chemicals do not accurately reflect ecological risks; point-source approaches do not effectively control the influence of nonpoint sources or the cumulative effects of numerous contaminants; and the chemical-contaminant approach fails to diagnose and correct water resource problems caused by other human influences, such as degradation of physical habitat or alteration in flow (Karr, 1991). 3.   Long-term success in protecting water resources requires careful thought about goals, or benchmarks, Including development and uses of criteria for protecting ecological Integrity. Water resources are not simply water; their quality and value to society depend on more than water quality and quantity alone. We must begin to track the condition of our waters as we track the status of local and national economies. Biological monitoring and biological criteria provide the most robust approach. Waterways that cannot support healthy biological communities are unlikely to support human society for long. 4.   The legal and regulatory framework in place today does not respond soon enough to continued degradation. Government agencies have been weak, inappropriately focused, and therefore largely ineffective at reversing resource declines, especially those not associated with point sources of chemical contamination. This observation is Consistent with the observation that major environmental legislation derives from the effectiveness of grassroots organizations, not

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--> from the leadership of government agencies. The effectiveness of that legislation is diminished because regulations to enforce it often compromise legislative goals (Greider, 1992; Karr, 1990). Underfunding--the chronic complaint from all bureaucracies and scientists--is not, however, the most important problem. Failure to set a clear societal goal and develop a comprehensive assessment and planning effort to accomplish that goal is unacceptable. Too often, as in the implementation of the Clean Water Act, a least-cost option to reduce water discharge is selected on the basis of available technology, a political need for equity, and narrow medium-specific goals. Environmental protection should emphasize the need to minimize insults to the total environment--land, water, and atmosphere. We can no longer afford to implement the Clean Water Act as if crystal-clear, distilled water running down concrete conduits were the objective. 5.   The quantitative expectations that constitute biological integrity vary geographically. Criteria developed for chemical contaminants have been applied uniformly for diverse water bodies. But the idea that the same chemical criteria should apply to all waters is ludicrous, for the underlying physical and chemical properties of streams vary regionally. Evolutionary and biogeographic variation are key components of biological integrity. 6.   Because biological systems are complex, multiple components of biology should be protected. Measurement of all components is logistically impossible. Thus, we must define a reasonable set of biological attributes that reliably track biological condition. Extensive experience in aquatic and terrestrial systems suggests that four key biological features should be tracked: species richness, species composition, individual health, and trophic (food web) structure. Collectively, these attributes detect (1) changes in species, including the identity and number of species present in the regional biota (elements); (2) ecological processes such as nutrient dynamics and energy flow through food webs; and (3) health of individuals, which is likely to influence demographic processes. Several approaches have been developed in the past decade to integrate complex biological data. The development of a multimetric approach (multiple biological attributes are evaluated to assess resource condition) for use in freshwater streams in the United States (Fausch et al., 1984; Karr, 1981, 1991; Karr et al., 1986) stimulated researchers and agency staff to adopt a similar method in water resource evaluations over a wider geographic area (Crumby et al., 1990; Deegan et al., 1993; Fausch and Schrader, 1987; Hughes and Gammon, 1987; Leonard and Orth, 1986; Lyons, 1992; Oberdorff and Hughes, 1992; Steedman, 1988) and with a variety of taxa (Kerans and Karr, 1994; Ohio EPA, 1988; Plafkin et al., 1989). The multimetric approach works because it recognizes biology as fundamentally important, selects only biologically meaningful and reliable measures, and is easy to communicate to policymakers and citizens. The multimetric approach

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--> provides a structure for knowledge that uses the common sense of biologists familiar with a regional biota, much as economic indices use common sense about economic conditions (e.g., Dow-Jones Average, Index of Leading Economic Indicators). Properly conceived and used, multimetric approaches based in sound biology are statistically rigorous (Fore et al., 1994). They provide a way to summarize complex information in a single quantitative expression while preserving information about each biological attribute. Properly selected measures of biological integrity can be used to determine whether life-support systems are degraded and identify the factors responsible for degradation. They may even be used to track the success of restoration programs. Developing Integrated Solutions If we are to stem biotic impoverishment and reverse environmental degradation, we must Set societal goals based on broad concepts of ecological integrity and ecological health. Forge partnerships among scientists, engineers, policymakers, resource managers, and citizens to develop approaches for attaining those goals. Revise the legal framework guiding environmental policy to ensure that both ecological risks and threats to human health are minimized. Protect existing resources. Restore resources that are degraded. Bringing Engineers and Ecologists Together Two disciplines of fundamental importance to human society, engineering and ecology, have expanded at unprecedented rates during the twentieth century. Most practitioners of one of these disciplines have only limited knowledge about the other, and fundamental conceptual differences have limited their interaction. Engineering developed to improve the lot of humans; most engineering incorporates only the chemical and physical dimensions of the natural world. The failure of engineering to recognize the importance of biological limits and connectivity within biological systems is matched by the failure of ecology to contribute to the resolution of important societal problems. Engineers and ecologists fail to address the right problem at the right time. Engineers are accustomed to others defining problems for them to solve, or they propose inappropriate solutions to perceived problems. Ecologists spend too much time trying to understand problems before they take action. They may be incapable of contributing useful solutions because they get lost in the details of natural environmental variation. Today societal realities compel both disciplines to improve their craft by

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--> expanding their interactions in the service of society. Those interactions must be based on mutual respect and understanding and on actions to avert the consequences of continued biotic impoverishment. Traditionally, human actions have not been evaluated so that their influence on ecological health or integrity was identified. When human populations were small, resources were abundant, technological skills were less advanced, and environmental degradation was less extreme. As a result, society did not notice or understand ecological integrity or health because degradation was local and usually transitory. An undeveloped frontier was always available. But the frontier is gone; supplies of many renewable resources have been depleted; chemical pollution is pervasive; and the global atmosphere is changing under the onslaught of human actions. We cannot avoid the use of technology, but we can no longer adopt technology without careful evaluation of its ecological effects. Most technology has been directed toward important, but narrow and typically short-term goals, such as protecting human health, achieving economic "efficiency," or replacing lost natural resources. Rarely have careful evaluations of the long-term consequences of a technology been completed before the technology was adopted. We must change our approach. We must ensure that protection of ecological health and integrity plays a central role in decisions about consumer goods and development of technologies, including when, where, and how to apply technology. Failure to protect ecological integrity and ecological health across all landscapes is probably the most serious threat to the security of individuals, nations, and global human society. Acknowledgments Thanks to Ellen W. Chu, Leska Fore, Brian Mar, and Gene Welch for commenting on earlier drafts of this manuscript. References Allenby, B. R., and D. J. Richards, eds. 1994. The Greening of Industrial Ecosystems. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. Angermeier, P. L., and J. R. Karr. 1994. Biological integrity versus biological diversity as policy directives: Protecting biotic resources. BioScience 44:690-697. Briggs, D. 1993. World's clerics draft global ethic: Violence, sexism, environmental abuse are all targeted. The Seattle Times, Seattle, Wash. September 1, 1993. Bullard, R. D., ed. 1994. Unequal Protection: Environmental Justice and Communities of Color. San Francisco, Calif.: Sierra Club Books. Carnegie Commission. 1992a. Environmental Research and Development: Strengthening the Fed-era Infrastructure. New York: Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government. Carnegie Commission. 1992b. International Environmental Research and Assessment: Proposals for Better Organization and Decision Making. New York: Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government.

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