Ecological integrity

Presented by

Bosselmann, Prof Klaus


Discussion paper on the definition of ecological integrity


2010_Bosselmann_Ecological_Integrity.pdf  (115k)

Investigating agreed definitions for ecological integrity (the natural state in which eco-systems need to exist in order to be sustained).

Phase2 board member Professor Klaus Bosselmann has written a paper titled Ecological integrity as the core meaning of sustainability which explores the definition of ecological integrity.

The first part of the paper is reproduced opposite, and you can download a PDF file of the full paper via the Attachments link at the bottom of this page.

Other definitions

Ecological Integrity - Environmental Stress Is A Challenge To Ecological Integrity, Components Of Ecological Integrity, Indicators Of Ecological Integrity

Ecological integrity as the core meaning of sustainability

by Professor Klaus Bosselmann 

Ecological integrity is well defined in the literature, but also in laws. 

In law, the concept of integrity has its origin in the 1972 US Clean Water Act. It has then widely been used in North America, for example, in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement1 between Canada and the United 
States. The Preamble reads: 

The purpose of the Parties is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lake Basin Ecosystem … where the latter is defined as … the interacting components of air, land, water and living organisms including humans … 

Like the Great Lake Basin, each ecosystem has certain characteristics. Ecosystems exist in infinite variation. Like snowflakes, no two systems are identical. But again like snowflakes, all ecosystems have a number of characteristics in common, for example, they contain: 

  1. Living and non-living elements; 
  2. Have a measurable degree of diversity (species, genes, chemicals etc); 
  3. Have s ome degree of resilience (defined as the systems ability to maintain relationships between system elements in the presence of disturbances); 
  4. Have a one-way net flow of energy (from outside to inside); 
  5.  Have a carrying capacity for particular kinds of organisms; 
  6. Exist in a state of non-equilibrium (i.e. they change through time); 
  7. Changes are irreversible (ecosystems do not return to a previous state, but evolve to a new form). 

Taken together, we can see these characteristics as the integrity of an ecosystem. In biological and ecological sciences a common and tangible concept is, therefore, ecological integrity.2

To read on, please view the PDF link.

1. Signed in 1978, ratified in 1988. International Joint Commission: Canada and United States, The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement <>
2. The ethical foundations go back to the work of environmental philosopher Laura Westra; they have considerably influenced the interdisciplinary dialogue on measuring ecosystem health. See, for example, the books by members of the Global Ecological Integrity Group <>