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Restoring ecosystem health to improve human health and well-being: physicians and restoration ecologists unite in a common cause

James C. Aronson, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO, USA; Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, Montpellier, France
Charles M. Blatt, Lown Cardiovascular Group, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Chestnut Hill, MA, USA
Thibaud B. Aronson, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO, USA


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Many challenges we face today are intimately linked to and derive from the biophysical and ecological degradation underway in almost all ecosystems on Earth. Responding effectively will require (1) changes in our behavior as citizens, parents, and consumers, (2) a shift to more ecologically sound technologies, taxes, and laws, and (c) an increase in long-term investments in small-, medium-, and large-scale ecological restoration projects.

The health and integrity of terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems directly affect human health in many ways, thus providing a powerful incentive for restoration. The recognition of the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem health in the daily lives of individuals is becoming more widespread, at least among scientists and policy makers, as is the drive to achieve widespread endorsement and participation at landscape/seascape, national, international, and planetary scales. However, to accelerate the process, the general public must be better informed and committed to participation. Ecosystem health is not a new idea but it is timely to revive discussion and expand the use of the concept in view of rapidly spreading national and international commitments to large-scale ecosystem restoration and healthy landscapes, e.g., at the UNFCCC COP (Convention of the Parties) in December 2015 in Paris, the UNCCD COP in October 2015, and the COP13 of the Conventions on Biological Diversity in December 2016.

When discussing restoration, the language of clinical medicine provides strong metaphors that may be useful for communication, education, research, lobbying, and outreach. Because of the links between ecosystem health and human health, physicians and health care workers in general have an important role to play alongside restoration scientists and practitioners. Furthermore, insight from the fields of clinical medical practice, research, and public health could also provide lessons for ecosystem restoration practitioners. Together, the two groups could form a potent interdisciplinary team. The authors, two ecologists and a physician, explore the use of ecosystem health as a metaphor related to human health and discuss the growing evidence of direct and indirect impacts of ecosystem dysfunction on human health.

Key words

ecological restoration; ecosystem health; human health; natural capital; metaphors; restoration culture; social capital; well-being

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087