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Sustainable ecosystems are at a balance between the rates of resource removal and replacement

Elements of Sustainability
 What are the elements of sustainability?

Maintaining a sustainable ecosystem relies on the interaction of 4 elements:


Ecosystem sustainability is determined by the relationship between these elements, and together they determine the level of resources that can be taken from an environment and still maintain it sustainably.

Ecosystems are sustainable when they are in balance between disturbance, use and productivity.

 How do these elements influence sustainability?

Productivity is the growth rate of each living part of an ecosystem; the animals, plants and other organisms that make up an ecosystem. Productivity affects the basic level of resources an ecosystem can provide. Diversity, the number of habitats, the kinds of species and the amount of genetic variability also influence productivity. Diverse ecosystems use their resources efficiently because different species use an ecosystem's resources in many different ways.

A moderate amount of disturbance, such as storms or other natural events, also increases productivity, but too much lowers productivity (and so sustainability). Most ecosystems can balance disturbance with regrowth. Our activities add to the disturbance rate, and can tip an ecosystem into unsustainablity if the combined level of disturbance becomes too great. Resilience is the ability of an ecosystem to resist and recover from disturbance events, and is influenced by both productivity and diversity.


Chapin, F. S., Torn, M. S. & Tateno, M. (1996, December). Principles of ecosystem sustainability. The American Naturalist 148(6): 1016-1037.

Wikipedia. (2002, August 1). Sustainability. Wikipedia. Retrieved 21 May 2008 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainability.

WWF. (2005, November 30). Marine protected areas. World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved 21 May 2008 from http://www.panda.org/about_wwf/where_we_work/africa/solutions_by_region/eame/our_solutions/index.cfm

Science Encyclopedia. (2008). Ecological disturbance. Science Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21 May 2008 from http://science.jrank.org/pages/2125/Disturbance-Ecological.html.

Alcamo, J et al. (2003). Ecosystems and human well-being : a framework for assessment.
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. PDF retrieved 20 June 2008 from http://pdf.wri.org/ecosystems_human_wellbeing.pdf

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