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Environmental Values

The Value of Ecosystem Health

J. Baird Callicott

Environmental Values 4(1995): 345-361. doi: 10.3197/096327195776679448

The concept of ecosystem health is problematic. Do ecosystems as such exist? Is health an objective condition of organisms or is it socially constructed? Can 'health' be unequivocally predicated of ecosystems? Is ecosystem health both objective and valuative? Are ecosystem health and biological integrity identical? How do these concepts interface with the concept of biodiversity?

Ecosystems exist, although they are turning out to be nested sets of linked process-functions with temporal boundaries, not tangible superorganisms with spatial boundaries. Ecosystem health - or normal occurrence of ecological processes and functions - is an objective condition of ecosystems, although the concept of ecosystem health allows some room for personal and social determination or construction. Ecosystem health is prudentially, aesthetically, and intrinsically valuable, although the value of ecosystem health is subjectively conferred. Biodiversity and biological integrity are different from, but not unrelated to, ecosystem health. Together these three normative concepts represent complementary conservation goals.

KEYWORDS: Biodiversity, community, ecosystem, ecosystem health, health, integrity, objective, subjective, value

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