Report on the Environment
The term “ecological condition” refers to the state of the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of the environment, and the processes and interactions that connect them. Understanding ecological condition is crucial, because humans depend on healthy ecological systems for food, fiber, flood control, and other benefits,1 and many Americans attribute deep significance and important intangible benefits to ecological systems and their diverse flora and fauna.2 As noted in the introduction to this report, this chapter focuses on critical ecosystem characteristics that are affected simultaneously by stressors in multiple media, rather than those whose trends can be definitively shown to be the results of trends in particular air, water, or land stressors. The ability to report on ecological condition remains significantly limited by the lack of indicators, but this chapter at least provides a framework for examining ecological condition.
EPA’s mission, broadly stated, is “to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment—air, water, and land—upon which life depends.”3 The translation of the mission into programs, initiatives, and research efforts continues to evolve within the Agency and is reflected in program goals, regulatory programs, and collaborative and educational efforts. EPA, other federal agencies, and state agencies collectively bear responsibility for ensuring the protection of ecological systems, including forests, public lands, oceans and estuaries, and particular species or groups of species. Trends in ecological condition provide insight into the degree to which the natural environment is being protected.
Key highlights :
- What are the trends in the extent and distribution of the nation’s ecological systems?
- overall extent (e.g., area and location) of different kinds of ecological systems (e.g. forests, undeveloped lands, and watersheds)
- spatial patterns in the distribution of ecological systems
- What are the trends in the diversity and biological balance of the nation’s ecological systems?
- types and numbers of species that live within ecological systems
- biological balance in terms of the proportional distributions of species and the influence of interactions among native and invasive species
- What are the trends in the ecological processes that sustain the nation’s ecological systems?
- primary and secondary productivity
- nutrient cycling, decomposition, and reproduction
- What are the trends in the critical physical and chemical attributes of the nation’s ecological systems?
- physical attributes such as climatological patterns, hydrology, and electromagnetic radiation.
- chemical attributes such as pH, oxidation-reduction potential, and nutrient levels.
- What are the trends in biomarkers of exposure to common environmental contaminants in plants and animals?
- biomarkers of exposure to contaminants that are particularly important to the health of plants and animals as well as to humans who consume such organisms.
More information about the Ecological Condition Chapter can be found in the ROE 2008 Report (PDF). (46 pp, 6.72MB)