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Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database: Variables

Variable TypeCategorical
Variable Component TypeNatural Resource Unit
Variable KindComponent
ThemeBiophysical (learn about themes)
QuestionIs the presence of this unit used as in indicator of broader environmental conditions in the system in which it is located?
Select OptionsEcosystem health and/or biodiversity, Status of species targeted by fisheries, Status of highly migratory species, Other
ImportanceIndicator units/species are a way of conveniently gauging otherwise complex, difficult-to-measure characteristics of a natural environment.

An indicator (sometimes referred to as an "indicator species") is a natural resource unit whose presence tightly correlates with other properties of the environment in which they live. As such the unit can be seen as an indicator, or proxy measurement, for these other characteristics. In the United States a very commonly known example of an indicator species is the Northern Spotted Owl in the Pacific Northwest region. This species was listed under the Endangered Species Act and thus subject to protective measures, as it was seen as in indicator of the health of the larger forest ecosystem in the region.


In this project we record whether or not a unit is an indicator for the following characteristics:

Ecosystem health and/or biodiversity of the ecosystem in which the unit is located

The status of other species targeted by fishers in a fishery

The status of other highly migratory species




Theory Usages

TheoryValue Used

Associated Studies

Study Citation

Component Usages

ComponentValue UsedExplanation
Galapagos Sea Cucumber["Status of species targeted by fisheries"]This species (Isostichopus fuscus) is the most common commercial species found in the Eastern Pacific (Maluf, 1988) and was once known as the most conspicuous invertebrate of the shallow littoral zone in the Galapagos Islands (Wellington, 1974).
GABMP (Commonwealth Waters) Southern Right Whale["Status of highly migratory species"]Status of highly migratory species - The whales forage and feed offshore in the summer months (from November to April) between at least 32 degrees South and 65 degrees South (Australia 2012) and have been observed as far south as the Antarctic (Bannister et al. 1999). From May to October, the breeding females occupy near-shore coastal calving and nursery areas that occur between 16 degrees South and 52 degrees South (IWC 2001; Werner et al. 2011).
GBR Green Turtle["Status of highly migratory species"]Green turtles may travel over hundreds or thousands of kilometers. Turtles in the GBR have been known to travel as far away as Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia (GBRMPA [online]).
Cenderwasih green turtle["Status of highly migratory species"]
Patagonian squid (Loligo gahi)[""]No - cannot be used since population is so variable
New Zealand Sea Lion[""]
GBR target fish["Status of species targeted by fisheries"]
Patagonian Toothfish ["Status of species targeted by fisheries"]
Light Mantled Albatross["Status of highly migratory species"]The light mantled albatross is a migratory seabird found in the circumpolar region of Antarctica. Birds breed on sub-Antarctic islands such as Macquarie island and forage on average up to 1,500 km south from breeding sites with a total distance travelled of over 6,000km in 10-15 days (Weimerskirch & Robertson 1994). Total distribution size has been estimated at 12,600 km-2 (BirdLife Fact Sheet 2014). Used as a highly migratory species indicator for Macquarie and Heard and McDonald Islands due to its prevalence at both locations. Compared to the estimated population size of this species (19,000-24,000 breeding pairs), a significant proportion of the population breeds at Macquarie (~1250 pairs) and Heard (200-500 pairs).
NWHI Lobster Fishery["Ecosystem health and/or biodiversity", "Status of species targeted by fisheries"]Proxy of fisheries. However the fishery was closed in 2000.
Macquarie Island Royal Penguin["Ecosystem health and/or biodiversity"]The Royal Penguin is used as an indicator of ecosystem health because they breed exclusively on Macquarie island; and thus are highly sensitive to changes in the quality of the ecosystem. However, between the months of approximately April to September they are found in the Open Ocean feeding on the polar front.
Wakatobi coral cover["Ecosystem health and/or biodiversity"]We use coral cover as a proxy for coral reef biodiversity, which in turn is a proxy for the overall health of biodiversity of the Wakatobi National Park - higher coral cover is associated with higher ecosystem health.
Wakatobi Green Turtle["Status of highly migratory species"]
Wakatobi fish spawning["Status of species targeted by fisheries"]These fish are an indicator of fish stocks. These fish species are targeted by fishermen who used to fish at the spawning sites. These spawning sites are now no-take zones.
Galapagos Green Turtle["Status of highly migratory species"]
Raja Ampat Reef Fish ["Status of species targeted by fisheries"]
King Penguin["Ecosystem health and/or biodiversity"]King penguins feed on pelagic fish, especially myctophids (mesopelagic fish) and some squid, foraging largely out at the Polar Front (Bost et al. 2013). At Heard and McDonald Islands, King Penguins have also been known to feed on Mackerel Icefish (which are also commercially harvested) especially in the winter (Moore et al. 1998). They are very vulnerable to environmental and climate change and could be threatened by a potential fishery interaction (if prey species is targeted or if targeted species also feeds on prey species; Bost et al. 2013).
Raja Ampat Coral Cover["Ecosystem health and/or biodiversity"]
Galapagos Sharks["Ecosystem health and/or biodiversity"]Sharks are high trophic level species, their high abundance is indicative of a healthy ecosystem. Hammerheads in particular have been shown through modeling studies to represent entire communities as an umbrella species (Hearn et al., 2013)
Raja Ampat Green Turtle["Status of highly migratory species"]
NWHI Green Turtle["Status of highly migratory species"]
California Humpback Whale["Ecosystem health and/or biodiversity", "Status of highly migratory species"]Humpbacks are used as a focal species for integrated ecosystem assessments along with other species, and as an indicator for marine mammal species (Redfern et al. 2012). CSCAPE, the Collaborative Survey of Cetacean Abundance and the Pelagic Ecosystem is a National Marine Sanctuary program to assess populations and to characterize the pelagic ecosystem of the US West Coast used humpback whale populations. This occurred from 2005 to 2007.
Svalbard Polar Bear["Ecosystem health and/or biodiversity"]At the top of the food chain, the polar bear depends on a healthy seal population, which in turn relies on the abundance of various fish species. Therefore, monitoring body condition in polar bears is likely to be a good reflection of prey availability (Polar Institute 2014). Although not directly related to the Nature Reserves, the polar bear is often used as a flagship species for climate change, since it is sensitive to the changing sea-ice conditions.
Seaflower coral reefs["Ecosystem health and/or biodiversity"]Coral cover has been used as an indicator of the ecosystem health.
Seaflower groupers["Ecosystem health and/or biodiversity", "Status of species targeted by fisheries"]Groupers are one of the top predators on reefs and are important commercial resource.
Svalbard Beluga["Status of highly migratory species"]Although the beluga is considered a migratory species, there is debate about the degree to which Svalbard whales are migratory. During the summer and into the fall (when other populations are often swimming to new locations), one study showed that Svalbard belugas remained near the coasts of Svalbard (Lyderson et al 2001). Although this telemetry study provides the first information about beluga movements near Svalbard, conclusive data is lacking about their migratory habits. It is possible that Svalbard belugas do not migrate, as a resident population has been observed in an Alaskan sound (Hobbs et al 2005).
Svalbard Shrimp["Status of species targeted by fisheries"]Shrimp represents ‘fisheries’, because it is the only species that is fished commercially within the nature reserves. Fish stocks in the greater Barents Sea region may show similar or different trends, depending on the specific species (FAO Catch Statistics 2015 [Online]).
GABMP (Commonwealth Waters) Southern Bluefin Tuna["Status of species targeted by fisheries", "Status of highly migratory species"]Status of species targeted by fisheries - Juvenile SBT (usually between 2-3 years old) are caught in the Great Australian Bight using purse seine methods, towed to Port Lincoln where they are transferred to grow-out cages, and then fed intensively for 6-8 months before being harvested and exported to Japan. More than 95% of Australia's total catch of this species is taken by this method (TSSC 2010). SBT are targeted throughout the rest of its global range by pelagic longliners that harvest fish from all age classes, from juveniles to adults over 12 years old (Phillips et al. 2009). SBT are also a migratory species (although not used as a proxy for this in this case) - they have a circumglobal distribution and are found throughout oceans of the southern hemisphere, from the tropics to the sub-Antarctic (30–50° S).
GABMP (Commonwealth Waters) Sea Lion["Ecosystem health and/or biodiversity"]A higher trophic level species found to eat benthic dwelling fish, cephalopods, crustaceans and sharks (McIntosh et al. 2006).
Svalbard Kittiwake["Status of highly migratory species"] The Black-legged Kittiwake nests along coastlines in much of the north Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and also breeds on inlands off the northern coast of Russia and on the northern coast of Norway. It winters at sea, ranging across much of the north Atlantic and Pacific oceans
Cenderwasih target fish["Status of species targeted by fisheries"]
Arrow Squid (Nototodarus spp.)[""]No. Can't be. Not enough information known about the species. Considered keystone species in ecosystem, but cannot be used to indicate.
California market squid (Loligo opalescens)[""]Ecosystem Health in terms of condition of ecosystem. Not strongly used as an indicator. But squid respond to temperature changes and so are somewhat used to describe temperature changes (e.g. ENSO, warm blob). Likely could be used to provide real-time monitoring of the ecosystem and serve as productivity integrators (Jackson and Domeier 2003).