New paper (2023): Ecosystem health and malfunctions: an organisational perspective

Published open-access in Biology and Philosophy

Abstract: A recent idea of “ecosystem health” was introduced in the 1970s and 1980s to draws attention to the fact that ecosystems can become ill because of a reduction of properties such as primary productivity, functions and diversity of interactions among system components. Starting from the 1990s, this idea has been deeply criticized by authors who argued that, insofar as ecosystems show many differences with respect to organismic features, these two kinds of systems cannot share a typical organismic property such as health. In recent years, an organisational approach in philosophy of biology and ecology argued that both organisms and ecosystems may share a fundamental characteristic despite their differences, namely, organisational closure. Based on this kind of closure, scholars have also discussed health and malfunctional states in organisms. In this paper, we examine the possibility of expanding such an organisational approach to health and malfunctions to the ecological domain. Firstly, we will see that a malfunction is related to a lower effectiveness in the functional behaviour of some biotic components with respect to other systemic components. We will then show how some introduced species do not satisfactorily interact in an organisational closure with other ecosystem components, thus posing a threat to the self-maintenance of the ecosystem in which they are found. Accordingly, we will argue that an ecosystem can be said to be healthy when it is a vital environment organisationally grounded on its intrinsic capacity to ensure, under favourable conditions, appropriate functional behaviours for ecosystem components and ecosystem self-maintenance.