What is Ecological Integrity
Close your eyes and imagine an old growth forest. See the trees, adorned in lichens and mosses, their branches swaying high above you. Hear the gentle bubble of water as it emerges from a hidden spring, the vibrant chorus of birds as they flit through the forest canopy above you, the soft padding of wolves’ feet along a well-used route. Smell the richness of the soils, where earth and water and plants come together in a combination that is unmistakably rejuvenating and full of life. Imagine this beautiful space, unmarred by traffic and pollution. This is an ecosystem with integrity. This is what we strive to protect and restore in Ontario’s provincial parks.
The guiding legislation for Ontario Parks, the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act, 2006 (PPRCA) defines ecological integrity as “a condition in which biotic and abiotic components of ecosystems and the composition and abundance of native species and biological communities are characteristic of their natural regions and rates of change and ecosystem processes are unimpeded. 2006, c. 12, s. 5 (2).” The heart of ecological integrity is the ‘naturalness’ of an area.
Ecosystems have integrity when they have their mixture of living and non-living parts and the interactions between these parts are not disturbed (by human activity).
Ecological integrity is important for our quality of life
Healthy ecosystems sustain healthy people and a healthy economy. We derive benefits from ecosystem services, including:
- food, fibre and medicines,
- clean air, and water,
- flood abatement, and
- outdoor recreation that nourishes our physical and mental health.
Our variety of life - the province’s rich natural bounty of plant and animal species, land, lakes and rivers, forests and other ecosystems - provides us with a healthy environment, clean air, productive soils, nutritious foods and fresh water.
Ecosystems are complex
Ecological integrity can be examined and defined at multiple scales. All ecosystems are made up of three core parts:
- Structure: this includes all the living and non-living (biotic and abiotic) components.
- Composition: this is the variety of living things that are found within the ecosystem, also known as biodiversity.
- Function: this includes all the natural processes (e.g. predator-prey cycles, fire, nutrient cycling, hydrologic cycle, etc. ) that occur within an ecosystem.
What happens if we ignore ecological integrity?
When ecological integrity is compromised, the diversity of life becomes vulnerable, and the ability of ecosystems to provide goods and services (like clean air and water) is compromised. This can affect the health and wellbeing of communities, impact the economy, and cause plants and animals to become locally extinct.
Across Ontario, people have recognized the need to work together to conserve, protect and restore Ontario’s natural resources. This type of collaboration is exemplified by The Ontario Biodiversity Council. The Council is composed of volunteer members representing a variety of interest groups, who have come together to guide the implementation of Ontario’s Biodiversity Strategy.