Aims The primary purpose of national park conservation and management is to effectively protect the authenticity and integrity of ecosystems, as well as natural and cultural resources of national importance. In this study, we aim to propose the concept of authenticity and integrity for national park management in China and establish a framework for authenticity and integrity evaluation based on the closed loop of value identification, value authenticity, integrity assessment, authenticity and integrity conservation, and the management strategy of monitoring and feedback.
Methods The primary research method is a review of previous literature on ecosystem integrity, ecosystem authenticity, and conservation management strategies of World Heritage sites, combining them with: practical experience; proposing concepts; systematically analyzing the connotations of the proposed definitions of authenticity and integrity; constructing an evaluation index system; proposing logical relationships among the indicators; and proposing conservation management recommendations based on the concepts and evaluation framework.
Results In this paper, we propose the authenticity and integrity of China's national parks. National park authenticity means that the ecosystems within a national park and the natural and cultural elements that constitute or are closely associated with national park values are maintained in their original state, with emphasis on “unimpaired”. National park integrity refers to the ability of national parks to maintain the structure, functions, and processes of ecosystems as well as the values and characteristics of natural areas with sufficient area and constituent elements, emphasizing “no deficiency”. The significance of the concept of management-oriented national park authenticity and integrity is reflected in three aspects: (1) the distinction between the concepts of authenticity and integrity is helpful for managers to clarify the goals of national park management, (2) using the requirements of authenticity and integrity to comprehensively cover the value system is conducive to the formation of a complete governance and management path of national parks, and (3) specifying the evaluation indexes of the authenticity and integrity of national parks is conducive to judging the effectiveness of national park management more effectively. We propose a framework for evaluating the authenticity and integrity of national parks. To evaluate the authenticity of national parks in five aspects: naturalness, intensity of climate change, authenticity of traditional culture and its carriers, degree of human interference, and authenticity of the harmonious relationship between human beings and nature. The integrity of national parks is evaluated in five dimensions: ecosystem composition integrity, ecosystem structural integrity, ecosystem functional integrity, landscape composition integrity, and cultural landscape integrity. We propose suggestions for the conservation and management of the authenticity and integrity of China's national parks, and those are presented in terms of reshaping objectives, updating concepts and enhancing technologies. The issues of authenticity and integrity of national parks have not yet been discussed in depth, and research on the setting of evaluation indexes, the interrelationship among evaluation indicators, and specific suggestions for conservation and management are yet to be further developed.
Conclusion This paper proposes a management-oriented concept of authenticity and integrity of Chinese national parks and a framework for authenticity and integrity evaluation. This provides a theoretical basis for establishing a complete management closure loop for Chinese national park management practices. The significance of the concept of authenticity and integrity, the index system of evaluation, and the management suggestions based on these are discussed throughout the paper.