Ecosystem Indicators for a Changing Ocean

Lay Summary 

This research will develop a framework of ecosystem indicators — gauges of ecosystem health — for Northwest Atlantic and Canadian Arctic Gateway ecosystems and will provide guidance for regional management strategies and conservation efforts.  


About the research

Development and sustainable use of ocean ecosystems requires metrics of how well ecosystems currently function in order to predict how effective management approaches can guide ecosystem function in the future. A holistic perspective of ecosystem indicators — from microbes to fish to plants to humans — will identify what measurements can be used to evaluate the overall functioning of an ecosystem given climate change, fishing, and other pressures.


This research encompasses two components: the first identifies key ecosystem indicators, with a focus on the cycling of nutrients and the connectivity between North Atlantic marine ecosystems; the second considers how humans interact with ecosystems and resulting benefits and impacts associated with healthy ocean ecosystems.  


1: Developing and operationalizing indicators for management of Northwest Atlantic ecosystems. This module will develop usable and effective indicators of ecosystem health for ecosystem-based management and conservation that will link to potential actions that stakeholders and marine managers can take to maintain ecosystem health. Researchers will examine food webs in coastal environments and beyond, and assess northern Arctic Gateway ecosystems, their marine life, and their habitats, in order to evaluate change over time. 


2: Ecosystem access in a changing ocean. This research component adds the human element, linking ecosystem indicators to an assessment of the vulnerability of natural change and human-induced pressures (including climate change, fishing, and loss of coastal habitats). It identifies priority management areas based on community preferences, and analyzes potential management implications on North Atlantic ecosystems and human communities. 


The impact

This framework of ecosystem indicators will assess the health of Northwest Atlantic and Canadian Arctic Gateway ecosystem components and how they change over time. The results will support policy decisions and inform conservation strategies, such as the ongoing growth of Canada’s network of Marine Protected Areas. By taking a broad view of ecosystem health, including the human socio-economic component, this research will enhance our ability to make evidence-based decisions and better manage human interactions with marine ecosystems.  


More information about this project can be found here.


Adapted from

Ocean Sciences
Physics and Physical Oceanography
Earth Sciences
Newfoundland and Labrador
Climate Change
Environmental Assessment
Cold Ocean and Arctic, Science, Technology and Society
Start date 
1 Jan 2020
Lead Organization 
Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI)
Partner Organization 
Nunatsiavut Government
Fisheries and Oceans
Parks Canada
Canadian Forest Service
Water Survey of Canada
Environment and Climate Change Canada
Nova Scotia Community College
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Texas A&M University
World Wildlife Fund
Ecology Action Centre