Matching biodiversity indicators to policy needs

Simone L. Stevenson, Kate Watermeyer, Giovanni Caggiano, Elizabeth A. Fulton, Simon Ferrier, Emily Nicholson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


At the global scale, biodiversity indicators are typically used to monitor general trends, but are rarely implemented with specific purpose or linked directly to decision making. Some indicators are better suited to predicting future change, others are more appropriate for evaluating past actions, but this is seldom made explicit. We developed a conceptual model for assigning biodiversity indicators to appropriate functions based on a common approach used in economics. Using the model, indicators can be classified as leading (indicators that change before the subject of interest, informing preventative actions), coincident (indicators that measure the subject of interest), or lagging (indicators that change after the subject of interest has changed and thus can be used to evaluate past actions). We classified indicators based on ecological theory on biodiversity response times and management objectives in 2 case studies: global species extinction and marine ecosystem collapse. For global species extinctions, indicators of abundance (e.g., the Living Planet Index or biodiversity intactness index) were most likely to respond first, as leading indicators that inform preventative action, while extinction indicators were expected to respond slowly, acting as lagging indicators flagging the need for evaluation. For marine ecosystem collapse, indicators of direct responses to fishing were expected to be leading, while those measuring ecosystem collapse could be lagging. Classification defines an active role for indicators within the policy cycle, creates an explicit link to preventative decision-making, and supports preventative action.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)522-532
Number of pages11
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • Aichi Targets
  • biodiversity indicators
  • Convenio sobre la Diversidad Biológica
  • Convention on Biological Diversity
  • dinámicas poblacionales
  • ecosystem based fisheries management
  • extinción
  • extinction
  • indicadores de biodiversidad
  • IUCN red list index
  • manejo de pesquerías basado en el ecosistema
  • Objetivos de Aichi
  • objetivos de desarrollo sustentable
  • population dynamics
  • sustainable development goals
  • índice de la lista roja de la UICN

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