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Biomonitoring: The Crucial Link Between Natural Systems and Society

John Cairns

Published: 2005/03/01

Abstract

How ironic that, in humankind's quest for sustainability, so little attention is given to the biospheric life support system upon which the human species depends. Since natural systems cannot speak to human society, a continuously operating feedback loop is essential for providing information about a natural system's condition in time to take corrective action when necessary. Investigators must replicate the important cause/effects pathways of natural systems. Biomonitoring is surveillance undertaken to ensure that previously established quality control conditions are being met. Surveillance is the systematic and orderly gathering of data to determine what is happening, but without a prior commitment to initiate remedial action if quality control conditions do not remain within an acceptable range. In order to take remedial action before severe damage has occurred, sampling must be sufficiently frequent and the results quickly available to provide an early warning of deleterious conditions. Micro- and mesocosms are not miniature ecosystems, but rather systems of lesser complexity that provide useful information on selected ecosystem attributes. Their design, study, and extrapolation to larger, multivariate ecosystems require considerable professional judgment. Properly used, micro- and mesocosms provide evidence for decision making that can prevent or diminish damage to larger natural systems for which they act as surrogates.