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Ecological engineering

Ecological Engineering is an emerging field of study integrating ecology and engineering, concerned with the design, monitoring and construction of ecosystems. The design of sustainable ecosystems intent to integrate human society with its natural environment for the benefit of both. [1]



Ecological engineering emerged as a new idea in the early-1960s, but its definition has taken several decades to refine, its implementation is still undergoing adjustment, and its broader recognition as a new paradigm is relatively recent. Ecological engineering was introduced by Howard Odum and others [2] as utilizing natural energy sources as the predominant input to manipulate and control environmental systems. Mitsch and Jorgensen [3] wrote that ecological engineering is designing societal services such that they benefit society and nature, and later noted [4][5] the design should be systems based, sustainable, and integrate society with its natural environment. Odum [6] later emphasized that self-organizational properties were a central feature to ecological engineering.

Bergen et al. [7] defined ecological engineering as:

  • utilizing ecological science and theory,
  • applying to all types of ecosystems,
  • adapting engineering design methods, and d) acknowledging a guiding value system.

Mitsch and Jorgenson [8] have more recently taken an applied approach to defining and characterizing ecological engineering. They suggest the goal of ecological engineering is: a) the restoration of ecosystems that have been substantially disturbed by human activities such as environmental pollution or land disturbance, and b) the development of new sustainable ecosystems that have both human and ecological values. They summarized the five concepts key to ecological engineering as:

  1. it is based on the self-designing capacity of ecosystems,
  2. it can be a field test of ecological theory,
  3. it relies on integrated system approaches,
  4. it conserves non-renewable energy, and
  5. it supports biological conservation.

Ecological engineering involves the design, construction and management of ecosystems that have value to both humans and the environment. This engineering discipline combines basic and applied science from engineering, ecology, economics, and natural sciences for the restoration and construction of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. The field of ecological engineering is increasing in breadth and depth as more opportunities to design and use ecosystems as interfaces between technology and environment are explored.[9]


Implementation of ecological engineering has focused on the creation or restoration of ecosystems, from degraded wetlands to multi-celled tubs and greenhouses that integrate microbial, fish, and plant services to process human wastewater into products such as fertilizers, flowers, and drinking water [10].

Potential applications of ecological engineering in cities have included the field of landscape architecture, urban planning, and urban horticulture [7], which can be synthesized into urban stormwater management. Potential applications of ecological engineering in rural landscapes have included wetland treatment [11] and community reforestation through traditional ecological knowledge [12].

Design Guidelines

Ecological engineering design will follow a cycle similar to engineering design - problem formulation (goal), problem analysis (constraints), alternative solutions search, decision among alternatives, and specification of a complete solution [13]. Elements that distinguish ecological engineering design are elaborated by many authors, however a singular approach is still absent. Typically, the design goal involves protecting an at-risk ecosystem, restoring a degraded ecosystem, or creating a new sustainable ecosystem to satisfy needs of nature and society [8].

A temporal framework is provided by Matlock et al. [14], stating the design solutions are considered in ecological time. In selecting between alternatives, the design should incorporate ecological economics in design evaluation [14] and acknowledge a guiding value system which promotes biological conservation [7][8].

  • applying to all types of ecosystems,
  • adapting engineering design methods, and
  • Design steps should be based on utilizing ecological science and theory [7],
  • the self-designing capacity of ecosystems [6];
  • accept the adaptive management theory of learning from mistakes [15] as the design will field test ecological theory [8];
  • utilize integrated system approaches [8]; and g) conserve non-renewable energy [2].

Academic Curriculum

An academic curriculum has been proposed for ecological engineering [14], and key institutions across the US are indeed starting programs. Key elements of this curriculum are:

  • quantitative ecology,
  • systems ecology,
  • restoration ecology,
  • ecological modeling,
  • ecological engineering,
  • economics of ecological engineering, and
  • technical electives.

Complementing this set of courses are prerequisites courses in physical, biological, and chemical subject areas, and integrated design experiences. According to Matlock et al. [14], the design must identify constraints, characterize solutions in ecological time, and incorporate ecological economics in design evaluation. Economics of ecological engineering has been demonstrated using energy principles for a wetland [16], and using nutrient valuation for a dairy farm [17].


  • H.D. van Bohemen (2004), Ecological Engineering and Civil Engineering works, Doctoral thesis TU Delft, The Netherlands.
  • H.T. Odum (1963), "Man and Ecosystem" Proceedings, Lockwood Conference on the Suburban Forest and Ecology, in: Bulletin Connecticut Agric. Station.


  1. ^ W.J. Mitsch & S.E. Jorgensen (1989), "Introduction to Ecological Engineering", In: W.J. Mitsch and S.E. Jorgensen (Editors), Ecological Engineering: An Introduction to Ecotechnology. John Wiley & Sons, New York, pp. 3-12.
  2. ^ a b H.T. Odum et al. (1963), Experiments with Engineering of Marine Ecosystems, in: Publication of the Institute of Marine Science of the University of Texas, 9: 374-403.
  3. ^ W.J. Mitsch and S.E. Jorgensen (1989), "Introduction to Ecological Engineering" In: W.J. Mitsch and S.E. Jorgensen (Editors), Ecological Engineering: An Introduction to Ecotechnology. John Wiley & Sons, New York, pp. 3-12.
  4. ^ W.J. Mitsch (1993), "Ecological Engineering - A Cooperative Role with the Planetary Life Support Systems" in: Environmental Science & Technology, 27: 438-45.
  5. ^ W.J. Mitsch (1996), "Ecological Engineering: a new paradigm for engineers and ecologists", In: P.C. Schulze (Editor), Engineering Within Ecological Constraints. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., pp. 114-132.
  6. ^ a b H.T. Odum (1989), "Ecological Engineering and Self-Organization" In: W.J. Mitsch and S.E. Jorgensen (Editors), Ecological Engineering: An Introduction to Ecotechnology. John Wiley & Sons, New York, pp. 79-101.
  7. ^ a b c d S.D. Bergen et al. (2001), "Design Principles for Ecological Engineering", in: Ecological Engineering, 18: 201-210.
  8. ^ a b c d e W.J. Mitsch & S.E. Jorgensen (2003), "Ecological engineering: A field whose time has come", in: Ecological Engineering, 20(5): 363-377.
  9. ^ Center for Wetlands, Ecological Engineering, webtext 2007.
  10. ^ N.J Todd & J. Todd, (1994), From Eco-Cities to Living Machines: Principles of Ecological Design, Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.
  11. ^ A.M. Nahlik er al. (2006), "Tropical Treatment Wetlands Dominated by Free-Floating Macrophytes for Water Quality Improvement in Costa Rica", in: Ecological Engineering, 28: 246-257.
  12. ^ * S.A.W. Diemont and others (2006), "Lancandon Maya Forest Management: Restoration of Soil Fertility using Native Tree Species", in: Ecological Engineering, 28: 205-212.
  13. ^ E.V. Krik
  14. ^ a b c d M.D. Matlock and others (2001), "Ecological Engineering: A Rationale for Standardized Curriculum and Professional Certification in the United States", in: Ecological Engineering, 17: 403-409.
  15. ^ * T.A. Endreny (2004), Stormwater Management for Society & Nature via Service Learning & Ecological Engineering. International Journal of Water Resources Development, 20(3): 445-462.
  16. ^ S. Ton, H.T. Odum & J.J. Delfino (1998), "Ecological Economic Evaluation of Wetland Management Alternatives", in: Ecological Engineering, 11: 291-302.
  17. ^ * C. Pizarro and others, An Economic Assessment of Algal Turf Scrubber Technology for Treatment of Dairy Manure Effluent. Ecological Engineering, 26(12): 321-327.

See also

  • Desertification
  • Ecological engineering methods
  • Ecotechnology
  • What is "ecological engineering"? Webtext, Ecological Engineering Group, 2007.
  • Ecological Engineering webtext by Howard T.Odum Center for Wetlands at the University of Florida, 2007.


  • American Ecological Engineering Society, homepage.
  • Ecological Engineeringh Group, homepage.
  • International Ecological Engineering Society homepage.

Scientific journal

  • Ecological Engineering since 1992, with a general description of the field.
  • Landscape and Ecological Engineering since 2005.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Ecological_engineering". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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