JournalDisplay Article
Monday, November 12, 2018

Bioindicators: A Review of Their Use in the Environmental Literature 1970–2005


Division of Life Sciences, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences

Institute and Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation,

Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey, USA


A wide range of scientists, managers, governmental agencies, and the public are interested in assessing the health and well-being of species, populations, and ecosystems. This has resulted in increased studies of the usefulness of different indicators as a measure of stressors and contaminants. This paper presents a review of bioindicators since 1970 by using four journals: Science of the Total Environment, Environmental Science and Technology, Environmental Pollution, and Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety. The overall objective was to examine temporal trends in publications on bioindicators, the species used as bioindicators, the contaminants of concern, and what they indicated (e.g., pollution or air quality). Overall, there has been a steady rise in the publication of papers about indicators since 1970, with nearly 35% of the indicator papers published in the last 5 years. Most papers that use the term indicator or bioindicator deal with some form of pollution, environmental quality, or human health. The greatest percent of indicator papers dealt with metal pollution and other chemical pollution, and the least dealt with oil. Despite the recent attention the developed countries have given to radioactive radiation and nuclear waste storage, only 5% of the papers were describing bioindicators of radiation. Plants accounted for over 40% of the indicator papers, followed by invertebrates and then fish. Of the total indicator papers, less than 2% each were attributable to sediments, reptiles, amphibians, and ecosystems. These data indicate that indicators have not been developed equally for different contaminants or with the use of different species. Mammals and birds, which often represent top-trophic levels, are clearly underrepresented. Although the choice of journals examined clearly affected the results, these data indicate a disproportionate emphasis on plants, overall pollution, and metals. To design an adequate biomonitoring plan, managers and public policy makers require more information on a suite of species from the same location. Only with such information can the best accumulators for particular contaminants be selected.

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