Abstract: Plant and animal species have been used for decades as indicators of air and water quality and agricultural and range conditions. Increasingly, vertebrates are used to assess population trends and habitat quality for other species. In this paper we review the conceptual bases, assumptions, and published guidelines for selection and use of vertebrates as ecological indicators. We conclude that an absence of precise definitions and procedures, confounded criteria used to select species, and discordance with ecological literature severely weaken the effectiveness and credibility of using vertebrates as ecological indicators. In many cases the use of ecological indicator species is inappropriate, but when necessary, the following recommendations will make their use more rigorous: (1) clearly state assessment goals, (2) use indicators only when other assessment options are unavailable, (3) choose indicator species by explicitly defined criteria that are in accord with assessment goals, (4) include all species that fulfill stated selection criteria (5) know the biology of the indicator in detail, and treat the indicator as a formal estimator in conceptual and statistical models, (6) identify and define sources of subjectivity when selecting monitoring and intetpreting indicator species, (7) submit assessment design, methods of data collection and statistical analysis, interpretations, and recommendations to peer review and (8) direct research at developing an overall strategy for monitoring wildlife that accounts for natural variability in population attributes and incorporates concepts from landscape ecology.
Conservation Biology – Wiley
Published: Dec 1, 1988
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