The Ohio State University
The vision and mission of the American Ecological Engineering Society includes the mandate to “integrate human society with its natural environment for the benefit of both.” This dual commitment â€“ to accomplish both engineering and ecological goals â€“ is a distinctive feature of the field of ecological engineering. Engineering interventions often have explicit human-centered design goals, and the degree to which these goals are met is a clear measure of their benefit to society. However, currently accepted measures of benefit to natural systems either require a reference ecosystem (the ecosystem restoration concept) or actually measure the benefits such ecosystems provide to society (the ecosystem services concept). As ecological engineering may well involve the creation of novel ecosystems, there is need for well-defined measures of ecological benefit based neither solely on historical systems nor solely on benefits to humans.
We propose ecosystem health as one such measure: that is, interventions causing an increase in ecosystem health provide a benefit to the natural system, and therefore the fulfillment of the ecological design goal. One common framework for ecosystem health considers vigor, organization, and resilience to be the three primary aspects of health for any complex system. In this study, we apply this framework to several bioretention cells recently installed in Columbus, OH, comparing them to nearby lawns and natural ecosystems to measure how basin installation has changed ecosystem health. Vigor is evaluated by biomass or biovolume, organization by species richness, and resilience by the diversity of interactions present in these systems. We evaluate these metrics for plants, ground beetles, and birds within these systems, grounding our assessment in a holistic view of ecosystem structure and metabolism. We hope these considerations may guide the design of such practices to truly fulfill both goals of the ecological engineering profession.