Ecological Integrity: Evaluating Success in National Parks and Protected Areas


National parks and protected areas have been established for a variety of purposes, but preserving wild nature is certainly one of the most important. Three concepts are particularly useful in defining what we want to protect within these areas. First, wilderness: unmanaged nature, free to be and to evolve into what it will. Second, biodiversity: the totality of natural life, including natural species, their genetic diversity and the diversity of wild communities they form. Third, ecological integrity: defined as the combination of biodiversity and wildness. Over the past two decades, land managers around the world have refined and applied the concept of ecological integrity to assess the status and evaluate management options for a wide range of landscapes. This article explores some of the main challenges and complexities of pursuing ecological integrity in parks management and in environmental policy more generally.

Key Concepts:

  • Over the past century, parks and natural areas managers have come to realise the value of maintaining all the natural processes and all the native species on the landscapes they manage.

  • Ecological integrity involves preserving the full complement of native biodiversity in an area, while limiting human manipulation and control of nature.

  • Preserving (and where possible restoring) ecological integrity is the primary goal in natural areas management, to which other goals are properly subordinate.

  • Good progress has been made in developing measurements of ecological integrity for a variety of natural and managed landscapes.

  • Climate change and global ecological degradation will make it increasingly difficult to maintain ecological integrity in coming decades.

  • Preserving ecological integrity in the long‐term demands restricting inappropriate human uses within protected areas, while reining in human overpopulation and overconsumption outside them.

  • Ecological integrity will continue to decline worldwide, until humanity accepts limits to growth and acts accordingly.

Keywords: ecological integrity; national parks; biological diversity; ecological indicators; wilderness


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Further Reading

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Westra L, Bosselman K and Westra R (eds) (2008) Reconciling Human Existence with Ecological Integrity. London: Routledge.

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Cafaro, Philip, and Primack, Richard(Mar 2012) Ecological Integrity: Evaluating Success in National Parks and Protected Areas. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003656.pub2]