Application of ecological indicators

Gerald J. Niemi, Michael E. McDonald

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

636 Scopus citations


Ecological indicators have widespread appeal to scientists, environmental managers, and the general public. Indicators have long been used to detect changes in nature, but the scientific maturation in indicator development primarily has occurred in the past 40 years. Currently, indicators are mainly used to assess the condition of the environment, as early-warning signals of ecological problems, and as barometers for trends in ecological resources. Use of ecological indicators requires clearly stated objectives; the recognition of spatial and temporal scales; assessments of statistical variability, precision, and accuracy; linkages with specific stressors; and coupling with economic and social indicators. Legislatively mandated use of ecological indicators occurs in many countries worldwide and is included in international accords. As scientific advancements and innovation in the development and use of ecological indicators continue through applications of molecular biology, computer technology such as geographic information systems, data management such as bioinformatics, and remote sensing, our ability to apply ecological indicators to detect signals of environmental change will be substantially enhanced.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-111
Number of pages23
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Assessment
  • Condition
  • Monitoring
  • Responses
  • Stressors


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