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Progress and Future Needs for Indicator Research

Steven G. Paulsen

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research & Development, Corvallis, Oregon

Substantial progress has been made in the field of environmental indicators for ecological assessment in the 16 years since the initiation of EMAP. National assessments have been completed for estuarine waters and streams. Regional assessments have been completed for lakes, near-shore coastal waters, rivers, and wetlands. For each of these, the designers had to grapple with issues of indicators, methods comparability, sensitivity, logistical constraints and thresholds for interpretation. Indicators have been implemented primarily to address biological or ecological conditions and indicators that would provide some insight into likely stresses that are negatively impacting aquatic resources. These successes should encourage investigators to continue improving the quality and utility of indicators. For example, the issue of thresholds or “reference conditions” necessary to interpret the results of monitoring and put them into context, remain and are significant. Have the advances in use of genetic markers opened new doors for indicators? Will the increasing focus on trends alleviate some of the issues that arise when status estimates are the focus? As people increasingly ask questions about ecological goods and services, as found in the U.N Millennium Assessment, will we need new indicators or does it require reinterpretation of existing indicators?

Keywords: indicators, reference conditions, assessments, endpoints

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