What is a healthy ecosystem?

Robert Costanza, Michael Mageau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

226 Scopus citations


Rapid deterioration of the world's major ecosystems has intensified the need for effective environmental monitoring and the development of operational indicators of ecosystem health. Ecosystem health represents a desired endpoint of environmental management, but it requires adaptive, ongoing definition and assessment. We propose that a healthy ecosystem is one that is sustainable - that is, it has the ability to maintain its structure (organization) and function (vigor) over time in the face of external stress (resilience). Various methods to quantify these three ecosystem attributes (vigor, organization, and resilience) are discussed. These attributes are then folded into a comprehensive assessment of ecosystem health. A network analysis based ecosystem health assessment is developed and tested using trophic exchange networks representing several different aquatic ecosystems. Results indicate the potential of such an ecosystem health assessment for evaluating the relative health of similar ecosystems, and quantifying the effects of natural or anthropogenic stress on the health of a particular ecosystem over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-115
Number of pages11
JournalAquatic Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 1999


  • Estuaries
  • Network analysis
  • Resilience
  • Vigor


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