Red-headed woodpecker, forested wetland birds (Kenneth Cole Schneider, Flickr)

Red-headed woodpecker, forested wetland birds (Kenneth Cole Schneider, Flickr)

Overview of the indicators

The South Atlantic ecosystem indicators serve as the building blocks of the Conservation Blueprint. They not only drive the design of this living spatial plan, but also allow us to evaluate its success. By monitoring these shared measures of ecosystem health, we can track progress toward our goals.

The South Atlantic LCC currently supports about 30 different indicators, including species, habitats, and abiotic factors. The natural resource indicators reflect the natural resource component of ecosystem integrity, while the cultural resource indicators capture the cultural resource component of ecosystem integrity. These metrics correspond either to a specific ecosystem or are intended to capture the connections across terrestrial and aquatic systems.

All the indicators can be modeled using existing data, and accurately reflect other components of healthy ecosystems. More than 200 people from over 50 organizations were involved in selecting, testing, and providing data for the ecosystem indicators.

The need for indicators

The ecosystems of the South Atlantic are complex, and indicators help simplify the modeling and monitoring of those systems. We cannot measure everything all of the time–especially not across a region that includes parts of six states and extends 200 miles into the Atlantic ocean! Indicators are designed to integrate many ecological functions and represent other components of the system that are either too expensive or time-consuming to measure.

The current indicators

Beach & dune

  • Beach birds: continuous index of habitat suitability for 4 shorebird species (Wilson’s plover, American oystercatcher, least tern, piping plover)
  • Unaltered beach: index of impacts from hardened structures like jetties, groins, and infrastructure

  • Coastal condition: continuous index of water quality, sediment quality, and benthic community condition
  • Wetland patch size: index based on the size of wetland patches
  • Water-vegetation edge: index of length of edge between open water and vegetation
Forested wetland

  • Forested wetland extent: overall acres of existing forested wetlands
  • Forested wetland birds: index of habitat suitability for 6 bird species (Northern parula, black-throated green warbler, red-headed woodpecker, Chuck-will’s widow, prothonotary warbler, Swainson’s warbler)
  • Forested wetland amphibians: Priority Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Areas (PARCAs) within forested wetlands
Freshwater aquatic

  • Riparian buffers: percent natural habitat near rivers and streams
  • Permeable surface: percent non-impervious cover by catchment
  • Imperiled aquatic species: number of globally imperiled, threatened, and endangered aquatic species within each watershed

  • Low road density: index of areas with few roads
  • Resilient biodiversity hotspots: index of mostly natural high-diversity areas potentially resilient to climate change
  • Low-urban historic landscapes (cultural indicator): index of sites on the National Register of Historic Places surrounded by limited urban development

  • Marine mammals: continuous index of dolphin and whale density based on monthly predictions
  • Potential hardbottom condition: index of potential condition of deepwater corals, solid substrate, and rocky outcroppings
  • Marine birds: continuous index of highly productive areas for birds that feed exclusively or mainly at sea
Maritime forest

  • Maritime forest extent: overall acres of existing maritime forest
Pine, woodland, savanna & prairie

  • Pine and prairie birds: index of habitat suitability for 3 bird species (Northern bobwhite, red-cockaded woodpecker, Bachman’s sparrow)
  • Regularly burned habitat: acres of fire-maintained, open canopy habitat
  • Pine and prairie amphibians: PARCAs within pine and prairie
Freshwater marsh

  • Freshwater marsh birds: index of habitat suitability for 4 freshwater marsh bird species (least bittern, Northern pintail, Northern shoveler, king rail)
  • Freshwater marsh extent: overall acres of existing freshwater marsh
Upland hardwood

  • Upland hardwood birds: index of habitat suitability for 7 upland hardwood bird species (wood thrush, whip-poor-will, hooded warbler, American woodcock, Acadian flycatcher, Kentucky warbler, Swainson’s warbler)
  • Urban open space (cultural indicator): index based on distance of urban areas from open space

  • Network complexity: index depicting the number of stream size classes in a river network not separated by large dams
  • Migratory fish connectivity: index capturing how far upstream different migratory fish species have been observed