Holistic Ecosystem Restoration Modeling

System-wide management of an ecosystem is beyond the technological, physical and financial limitations of society. However, certain processes within an ecosystem can be used to synergize the system as a whole. Initiating this change requires establishing a symbiotic relationship between engineered and natural systems to enhance targeted ecosystem processes that will yield exponential responses within the ecosystem.

Stakeholders, community members and government officials are all critical pieces of the puzzle and must come together to develop a framework for ecosystem restoration utilizing various projects and economic management tools. The program should focus on developing economic opportunities and activities that would be enhanced by restoring the degraded ecosystem. Beneficiaries could include area residents, tourists, local business owners, and the tourism and agricultural industries throughout the region, as well as local and state government via increased area tax revenues.

This framework would establish the seeds of stable processes for self-sustaining ecosystem restoration. At Grand Lake St. Marys in Ohio, that foundation is a Conceptual Ecosystem Revitalization Model (CERM) for the lake. The model is based on Fischenich’s conceptual ecosystem model and is a simplified relational diagram model that communicates the processes, functions, and relationships at work in an ecosystem (2008). The CERM can be used to make qualitative predictions of ecosystem response and aid managers in deciding upon strategies for the desired ecological outcome.

Holistic Ecosystem Restoration Modeling_1


The CERM is a simplified relational diagram model that communicates the processes, functions, and relationships at work in an ecosystem. The basic elements of the CERM include:

Influential large-scale processes that can affect major changes in the system. They can be natural, such as geological setting, or anthropogenic, such as large-scale land conversion.

Ecological drivers are the physical, chemical, biological and anthropogenic factors that determine the current ecological condition. They are influenced or produced by processes and are working in concert to set the upper and lower limits for the system’s ecological potential.

Ecological Effects describe the structural and functional condition of the ecosystem as a response to the imposed ecological drivers.

Attributes are indicators of the ecological condition. While a wide distribution of attributes may be available, the most effective approach is a simplified list that best represents the particular system of interest and, in the case of a restoration effort, the strategies to be implemented.

Performance Measures are the specific items that will be measured over space and time to detect system response. The attributes and performance measures should follow logically from the goals and restoration objectives. Data generated from the performance measures is the key component for informing decision making in the adaptive management process.

The model postulates linkages between the system’s Processes → Ecological Drivers → Ecological Effects. It does not infer a direction or trajectory as it relates to the drivers and ecological responses, that is the “drivers” are not inherently positive or negative, but simply the model input variables that influence the ecological condition. The Attributes and Performance Measures that follow from the Ecological Effects provide for the definition of the system attributes that can be evaluated and monitored over time and/or space to detect system condition and response to change in the type or magnitude of the Ecological Drivers as a result of management actions.

The CERM is not a final or comprehensive model, as there will always be lesser understood components in an ecosystem, but by combining the model elements—processes, ecological drivers, ecological effects, and performance measures—it can be used to describe the complexity of ecological restoration in a manageable way. The CERM will continue to be revised and updated based on the results that come out of restoration actions at the lake, setting the ground for a long-term approach for successful restoration.