Monitoring and evaluation are central to ensuring that innovative, multi-scale, and interdisciplinary approaches to sustainability are effective. The development of relevant indicators for local sustainable management outcomes, and the ability to link these to broader national and international policy targets, are key challenges for resource managers, policymakers, and scientists. Sets of indicators that capture both ecological and social-cultural factors, and the feedbacks between them, can underpin cross-scale linkages that help bridge local and global scale initiatives to increase resilience of both humans and ecosystems. Here we argue that biocultural approaches, in combination with methods for synthesizing across evidence from multiple sources, are critical to developing metrics that facilitate linkages across scales and dimensions. Biocultural approaches explicitly start with and build on local cultural perspectives — encompassing values, knowledges, and needs — and recognize feedbacks between ecosystems and human well-being. Adoption of these approaches can encourage exchange between local and global actors, and facilitate identification of crucial problems and solutions that are missing from many regional and international framings of sustainability. Resource managers, scientists, and policymakers need to be thoughtful about not only what kinds of indicators are measured, but also how indicators are designed, implemented, measured, and ultimately combined to evaluate resource use and well-being. We conclude by providing suggestions for translating between local and global indicator efforts.

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We thank F. Arengo, T. Milton, K. Careaga, M. Gueze, L. Sebastien and M. Roué for contributions. The material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant numbers EF-1427091 and 1444184. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Support for this project also comes from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Lynette and Richard Jaffe, and the Jaffe Family Foundation.

Author information


  1. Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY, 10024, USA

    • Eleanor J. Sterling
    • , Christopher Filardi
    • , Anne Toomey
    • , Amanda Sigouin
    • , Erin Betley
    • , Nadav Gazit
    • , Mary Blair
    • , Georgina Cullman
    • , Suzanne Macey
    • , Cynthia Malone
    • , Joe McCarter
    •  & Ana L. Porzecanski
  2. Department of Environmental Studies and Science, Pace University, One Pace Plaza, New York, NY, 10038, USA

    • Anne Toomey
  3. East Pacific Collection, Australian Museum, Sydney, New South Wales, 2010, Australia

    • Jennifer Newell
  4. School of Civil Engineering, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Queensland, 4072, Australia

    • Simon Albert
    •  & Patrick Pikacha
  5. Keller Science Action Center, The Field Museum, Chicago, IL, 60605, USA

    • Diana Alvira
    •  & Nora Bynum
  6. Bioversity International, 00054 Maccarese, Rome, Italy

    • Nadia Bergamini
    •  & Pablo B. Eyzaguirre
  7. Ecological Solutions Solomon Islands, PO Box 180, Gizo, Western Province, Solomon Islands

    • David Boseto
  8. School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, CT, 06511, USA

    • Kate Burrows
  9. National Center for Scientific Research, CEFE UMR 5175, 34293, Montpellier, France

    • Sophie Caillon
    •  & Matthieu Salpeteur
  10. Marine Science Institute, University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, 93106, USA

    • Jennifer E. Caselle
  11. National Center for Scientific Research, CRIOBE, USR 3278 CNRS-EPHE-UPVD, 66860 Perpignan, France and Laboratoire d’Excellence CORAIL, Perpignan, France

    • Joachim Claudet
  12. Department of Biology, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Honolulu, HI, 96822, USA

    • Rachel Dacks
  13. Department of Community Sustainability, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, 48823, USA

    • Steven Gray
  14. Department of Mammalogy, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY, 10024, USA

    • James Herrera
  15. Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, United Nations, New York, NY, 10017, USA

    • Peter Kenilorea
  16. Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry, Pacific Southwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Hilo, HI, 96720, USA

    • Kealohanuiopuna Kinney
  17. Brown University, Box G-W, 80 Waterman Street, Providence, RI, 02912, USA

    • Kealohanuiopuna Kinney
  18. Department of Botany, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Honolulu, HI, 96822, USA

    • Natalie Kurashima
    •  & Tamara Ticktin
  19. Kamehameha Schools, Natural and Cultural Resources, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740, USA

    • Natalie Kurashima
  20. Solomon Islands Community Conservation Partnership, PO Box 2378, Honiara, Solomon Islands

    • Senoveva Mauli
  21. USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, NYC Urban Field Station, Bayside, NY, 11359, USA

    • Heather McMillen
  22. Department of Natural Resource and Environmental Management, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Honolulu, HI, 96822, USA

    • Pua’ala Pascua
    •  & Kawika B. Winter
  23. Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, UMR PALOC IRD/MNHN, 75231, Paris cedex 05, France

    • Pascale de Robert
  24. Solomon Islands Ministry of Forests and Research, PO Box G.24, Honiara, Solomon Islands

    • Myknee Sirikolo
  25. Marshall Islands Conservation Society, College of the Marshall Islands, PO Box 1258, Majuro, Marshall Islands

    • Mark H. Stege
  26. MarTina Corporation, PO Box 403, Majuro, Marshall Islands

    • Kristina Stege
  27. Fisheries Ecology Research Lab, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Honolulu, HI, 96822, USA

    • Ron Vave
  28. Science and Education, The Field Museum, Chicago, IL, 60605, USA

    • Alaka Wali
  29. Department of Anthropology, Barnard College and Columbia University, New York, NY, 10027, USA

    • Paige West
  30. National Tropical Botanical Garden, Kalaheo, HI, 96746, USA

    • Kawika B. Winter
  31. Wildlife Conservation Society, Melanesia Program, 11 Ma’afu Street, Suva, Fiji

    • Stacy D. Jupiter


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  28. Search for Senoveva Mauli in:

  29. Search for Joe McCarter in:

  30. Search for Heather McMillen in:

  31. Search for Pua’ala Pascua in:

  32. Search for Patrick Pikacha in:

  33. Search for Ana L. Porzecanski in:

  34. Search for Pascale de Robert in:

  35. Search for Matthieu Salpeteur in:

  36. Search for Myknee Sirikolo in:

  37. Search for Mark H. Stege in:

  38. Search for Kristina Stege in:

  39. Search for Tamara Ticktin in:

  40. Search for Ron Vave in:

  41. Search for Alaka Wali in:

  42. Search for Paige West in:

  43. Search for Kawika B. Winter in:

  44. Search for Stacy D. Jupiter in:


E.J.S., C.F., J.N., S.D.J., A.T., and J.M. conceptually framed the manuscript. E.J.S. and C.F. led the development of the manuscript and integration of content. A.S., E.B., G.C., A.T., and N.G. synthesized literature. All remaining authors contributed equally to generating ideas and drafting and revising the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Eleanor J. Sterling.