Some of most used indicators in marine ecology are nucleic acid-derived indices. They can be divided by target levels in three groups: 1) at the organism level as ecophysiologic indicators, indicators such as RNA:DNA ratios, DNA:dry weight and RNA:protein, 2) at the population level, indicators such as growth rate, starvation incidence or fisheries impact indicators, and 3) at the community level, indicators such as trophic interactions, exergy indices and prey identification. The nucleic acids derived indices, especially RNA:DNA ratio, have been applied with success as indicators of nutritional condition, well been and growth in marine organisms. They are also useful as indicators of natural or anthropogenic impacts in marine population and communities, such as upwelling or dredge fisheries, respectively. They can help in understanding important issues of marine ecology such as trophic interactions in marine environment, fish and invertebrate recruitment failure and biodiversity changes, without laborious work of counting, measuring and identification of small marine organisms. Besides the objective of integrate nucleic acid derived indices across levels of organization, the paper will also include a general characterization of most used nucleic acid derived indices in marine ecology and also advantages and limitations of them. We can conclude that using indicators, such RNA:DNA ratios and other nucleic acids derived indices concomitantly with organism and ecosystems measures of responses to climate change (distribution, abundance, activity, metabolic rate, survival) will allow for the development of more rigorous and realistic predictions of the effects of anthropogenic climate change on marine systems.
Keywords: RNA:DNA ratio; ecological indicators; marine ecology; nucleic acid derived indices.