Opportunities for web-based indicators in environmental sciences

PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e42128. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042128. Epub 2012 Aug 15.


This paper proposes a set of web-based indicators for quantifying and ranking the relevance of terms related to key-issues in Ecology and Sustainability Science. Search engines that operate in different contexts (e.g. global, social, scientific) are considered as web information carriers (WICs) and are able to analyse; (i) relevance on different levels: global web, individual/personal sphere, on-line news, and culture/science; (ii) time trends of relevance; (iii) relevance of keywords for environmental governance. For the purposes of this study, several indicators and specific indices (relational indices and dynamic indices) were applied to a test-set of 24 keywords. Outputs consistently show that traditional study topics in environmental sciences such as water and air have remained the most quantitatively relevant keywords, while interest in systemic issues (i.e. ecosystem and landscape) has grown over the last 20 years. Nowadays, the relevance of new concepts such as resilience and ecosystem services is increasing, but the actual ability of these concepts to influence environmental governance needs to be further studied and understood. The proposed approach, which is based on intuitive and easily replicable procedures, can support the decision-making processes related to environmental governance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods
  • Databases, Factual
  • Ecology / methods*
  • Ecosystem
  • Environment
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Internet
  • Search Engine
  • Time Factors
  • Water


  • Water

Grant support

The study has been funded by Regione Lombardia, commissioning the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the University of Pavia for studying ecological webs. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.