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

Red-headed woodpecker, forest birds indicator (Kenneth Cole Schneider/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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

Terrestrial

  • 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
  • Marsh extent: Overall acres of freshwater and saltwater marsh
  • Marsh patch size: Size of freshwater and saltwater marsh patches
  • Resilient coastal sites: Index depicting the ability of coastal sites to sustain biodiversity and natural services under increasing
    inundation from sea-level rise
  • Maritime forest extent: Overall acres of maritime forest
  • Forested wetland extent: Overall acres of forested wetlands
  • Pine birds: index of habitat suitability for 3 pine bird species (Northern bobwhite, red-cockaded woodpecker, Bachman’s sparrow)
  • Previously burned pine habitat: Acres of fire-maintained, open canopy pine habitat
  • Forest birds: Index of habitat suitability for 12 upland hardwood and forested wetland bird species (wood thrush, whip-poor-will, American woodcock, red-headed woodpecker, Chuck-will’s widow, hooded warbler, Kentucky warbler, Acadian flycatcher, Northern parula, black-throated green warbler, prothonotary warbler, Swainson’s warbler)
  • Intact habitat cores: Size of large, unfragmented patches of natural habitat
  • Greenways & trails: Index of natural condition and connected length of recreational paths
  • Resilient terrestrial sites: Index depicting the ability of terrestrial sites to continue supporting biodiversity and ecosystem
    function in the face of climate change
  • Low-urban historic landscapes: Index of sites on the National Register of Historic Places surrounded by limited urban development
  • Urban open space: Index of current and potential future open space in urban areas based on the distance of undeveloped areas to existing protected lands
  • Amphibian & reptile areas: Priority Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Areas

Freshwater

Marine

  • Estuarine coastal condition: Continuous index of water quality, sediment quality, and benthic community condition
  • 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