Series No. 7
Approach in Environmental Management
- An Ecosystem's Perspective >
The term phytotechnology describes the application of science and engineering
to study problems and provide solutions involving plants. Although the term
is not widely used, it is useful in promoting a broader understanding of
the importance of plants and their beneficial role within both societal and
natural systems. Underlying this concept is the use of plants as living
technologiesto help address environmental challenges.
Phytotechnology applications employ ecological engineering principles and
are considered to be ecotechnologies. Hence phytotechnologies are based on
the science of ecology and consider the ecosystem as an integral component
of human and societal interventions involving the natural environment.
A related term is biotechnology, which refers to the application of science
and engineering to study problems and provide solutions involving living
The term biotechnology can also refer to the manipulation of the genetic structure
of cells to produce modified organisms with an augmented capacity to perform
certain functions. Table 3 summarizes these definitions.
Table 3: Defining Phytotechnology
|eco = living systems, ecological
||TECHNOLOGY = the application of science and engineering to study problems
and provide solutions
||ecotechnology = the application of science and engineering to study problems
and provide solutions involving ecological systems
|PHYTO = plant, flora, vegetation
||PHYTOTECHNOLOGY = the application of science and engineering to study
problems and provide solutions involving plants
|bio = life, of living beings, biological
|| biotechnology = the application of science and engineering to study
problems and provide solutions involving living beings
Just as there are many different applications of biotechnology, there are
also many different applications of phytotechnology. Some of these applications
are well established in sectors such as medicine, agriculture and forestry
to name a few. There are also many important environmentally related applications.
As shown in Table 4, the environmentally beneficial applications of phytotechnologies
can generally be divided into five categories: augmenting the adaptive capacity
of natural systems to moderate the impacts of human activities; preventing
pollutant releases and environmental degradation; controlling pollutant releases
and environmental processes to minimize environmental degradation; remediation and restoration of degraded ecosystems; and incorporating indicators of ecosystem
health into monitoring and assessment strategies.
The integrated ecosystems management component of this focuses on the use
of phytotechnologies to augment the capacity of natural systems to absorb impacts.
The prevention component involves the use of phytotechnologies to avoid the
production and release of environmentally hazardous substances and/or the modification
of human activities to minimize damage to the environment; this can include
product substitution or the redesign of production processes. The control component
addresses chronic releases of pollutants and the application of phytotechnologies
to control and render these substances harmless before they enter the environment.
The remediation and restoration component embodies phytotechnologies and methods
designed to recuperate and improve ecosystems that have declined due to naturally
induced or anthropogenic effects. The monitoring and assessment component involves
the use of phytotechnologies to monitor and assess the condition of the environment,
including releases of pollutants and other natural or anthropogenic materials
of a harmful nature.
Table 4: Environmentally Beneficial Applications of Phytotechnologies
Some specific examples of phytotechnology applications include:
||The use of plants to reduce or solve pollution problems that
otherwise would be more harmful to other ecosystems. An example is the
use of wetlands for wastewater treatment.
||The replication of ecosystems and plant communities to reduce or solve
a pollution problem. Examples are constructed ecosystems such as ponds
and wetlands for treatment of wastewater or diffuse pollution sources.
|| The use of plants to facilitate the recovery of ecosystems after significant
disturbances. Examples are coal mine reclamation and the restoration of
lakes and rivers.
|| The increased use of plants as sinks for carbon dioxide to mitigate
the impacts of climate change. Examples of this are reforestation and afforestation.
||The use of plants to augment the natural capacity of urban areas to mitigate
pollution impacts and moderate energy extremes. An example is the use of
rooftop vegetation, or “ greenroofs”. More information and
examples about the use and applications of phytotechnology is presented
in Section 3.