Bioindicators: Types, Development, and Use in Ecological Assessment and Research
JOANNA BURGER Division of Life Sciences, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, and Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation, Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey, USA Government, scientists, managers, and the public are interested in assessing the health of ecosystems. Initially ecologists concentrated on assessing condition, reproductive success, and survival of a wide range of individual species, but this approach quickly broadened to include the health of communities, ecosystems, and landscapes, as well as the human dimension. Monitoring ecosystem health requires the use of a suite of bioindicators that are biologically, methodologically, and societally relevant, and can be used effectively over time to assess trends and provide early warning. Bioindicators can be developed for ecosystem health assessment, for human effects and interventions, human health assessment, and for evaluating sustainability. Whereas ecologists initially developed indicators to measure health or well-being of relatively pristine environments, the usefulness of indicators is enhanced if they can assess both ecological and human health, provide trends data, and be used to examine a wide range of stressors, from natural to anthropogenic. A literature review indicated that most ecological indicators have been developed for ecosystem function, followed by political, regulatory, cost, and risk assessment considerations. There are four main types of indicators, which are not mutually exclusive, including 1) ecosystem health assessment, 2) human effects, 3) human interventions, and 4) human health and well-being. These indicators can then be used to assess the current health of a species or system, the effects of particular human activities on ecosystems, and the efficacy of management, remediation, and restoration, or just to track trends over time. Bioindicators that encompass several categories have the greatest chance of being implemented over the long term.
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