SYMPOSIA PAPER Published: 01 January 2004

Selecting a Suite of Ecological Indicators for Resource Management


We discuss the use of ecological indicators as a natural resource management tool, focusing on the development and implementation of a procedure for selecting and monitoring indicators. Criteria and steps for the selection of ecological indicators are presented. The development and implementation of indicators useful for management are applied to Fort Benning, Georgia, where military training, controlled fires (to improve habitat for the endangered red cockaded woodpecker), and timber thinning are common management practices. A suite of indicators is examined that provides information about understory vegetation, soil microorganisms, landscape patterns, and stream chemistry and benthic macroinvertebrate populations and communities. For example, plants that are geophytes are the predominant life form in disturbed areas, and some understory species are more common in disturbed sites than in reference areas. The set of landscape metrics selected (based upon ability to measure changes through time or to differentiate between land cover classes) included percent cover, total edge (with border), number of patches, mean patch area, patch area range, coefficient of variation of patch area, perimeter/area ratio, Euclidean nearest neighbor distance, and dumpiness. Landscape metrics indicate that the forest area (particularly that of pine) has declined greatly since 1827, the date of our first estimates of land cover (based on witness tree data). Altered management practices in the 1990s may have resulted in further changes to the Fort Benning landscape. Storm sediment concentration profiles indicate that the more highly disturbed catchments had much greater rates of erosion and sediment transport to streams than less disturbed catchments. Disturbance also resulted in lower richness of EPT (i.e., number of taxa within the aquatic insect orders Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera) than in reference streams but similar total richness of invertebrate species. Each indicator provides information about the ecological system at different temporal and spatial scales.

Author Information

Dale, VH
Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN
Mulholland, PJ
Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN
Olsen, LM
Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN
Feminella, JW
Auburn University, Auburn, AL
Maloney, KO
Auburn University, Auburn, AL
White, DC
Center for Biomarker Analysis, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN
Peacock, A
Center for Biomarker Analysis, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN
Foster, T
Panamerican Consultants, Inc., Columbus, GA
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Developed by Committee: E47
Pages: 3–17
DOI: 10.1520/STP11939S
ISBN-EB: 978-0-8031-5501-5
ISBN-13: 978-0-8031-3476-8