FCE LTER Journal Articles


Ecological indicators for system-wide assessment of the greater everglades ecosystem restoration program


Developing scientifically credible tools for measuring the success of ecological restoration projects is a difficult and a non-trivial task. Yet, reliable measures of the general health and ecological integrity of ecosystems are critical for assessing the success of restoration programs. The South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force (Task Force), which helps coordinate a multi-billion dollar multi-organizational effort between federal, state, local and tribal governments to restore the Florida Everglades, is using a small set of system-wide ecological indicators to assess the restoration efforts. A team of scientists and managers identified eleven ecological indicators from a field of several hundred through a selection process using 12 criteria to determine their applicability as part of a system-wide suite. The 12 criteria are: (1) is the indicator relevant to the ecosystem? (2) Does it respond to variability at a scale that makes it applicable to the entire system? (3) Is the indicator feasible to implement and is it measureable? (4) Is the indicator sensitive to system drivers and is it predictable? (5) Is the indicator interpretable in a common language? (6) Are there situations where an optimistic trend with regard to an indicator might suggest a pessimistic restoration trend? (7) Are there situations where a pessimistic trend with regard to an indicator may be unrelated to restoration activities? (8) Is the indicator scientifically defensible? (9) Can clear, measureable targets be established for the indicator to allow for assessments of success? (10) Does the indicator have specificity to be able to result in corrective action? (11) What level of ecosystem process or structure does the indicator address? (12) Does the indicator provide early warning signs of ecological change? In addition, a two page stoplight report card was developed to assist in communicating the complex science inherent in ecological indicators in a common language for resource managers, policy makers and the public. The report card employs a universally understood stoplight symbol that uses green to indicate that targets are being met, yellow to indicate that targets have not been met and corrective action may be needed and red to represent that targets are far from being met and corrective action is required. This paper presents the scientific process and the results of the development and selection of the criteria, the indicators and the stoplight report card format and content. The detailed process and results for the individual indicators are presented in companion papers in this special issue of Ecological Indicators.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation through the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research program under Cooperative Agreements #DBI-0620409 and #DEB-9910514. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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