This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
What can the canary in the coal mine tell us? Historically, canaries accompanied coal miners deep underground. Their small lung capacity and unidirectional lung ventilation system made them more vulnerable to small concentrations of carbon monoxide and methane gas than their human companions. As late as 1986, the acute sensitivity of these birds served as a biological indicator of unsafe conditions in underground coal mines in the United Kingdom. Since human health concerns continue to drive the development and application of bioindicators, the loss of ecosystem services (e.g., clean air, drinking water, plant pollinators) has increasingly focused our attention on the health of natural ecosystems. All species (or speciesassemblages) tolerate a limited range of chemical, physical, and biological conditions, which we can use to evaluate environmental quality. Despite many technological advances, we find ourselves turning to the biota of natural ecosystems to tell us the story of our world.
What Is a Bioindicator?
Figure 1: Comparison of environmental tolerances of (a) bioindicators, (b) rare species, and (c) ubiquitous species Red areas represent portions of an environmental gradient (e.g., light availability, nitrogen levels) where an individual, species, or community, has fitness or abundance greater than zero. The dashed line represents the peak performance along this particular environmental gradient, while yellow boxes include the optimum range or tolerance. Bioindicators possess a moderate tolerance to environmental variability, compared to rare and ubiquitous species. This tolerance affords them sensitivity to indicate environmental change, yet endurance to withstand some variability and reflect the general biotic response. © 2010 Nature Education All rights reserved. Bioindicators include biological processes, species, or communities and are used to assess the quality of the environment and how it changes over time. Changes in the environment are often attributed to anthropogenicdisturbances (e.g., pollution, land use changes) or natural stressors (e.g., drought, late spring freeze), although anthropogenic stressors form the primary focus of bioindicator research. The widespread development and application of bioindicators has occurred primarily since the 1960s. Over the years, we have expanded our repertoire of bioindicators to assist us in studying all types of environments (i.e., aquatic and terrestrial), using all major taxonomic groups. However, not all biological processes, species, or communities can serve as successful bioindicators. Physical, chemical, and biological factors (e.g., substrate, light, temperature, competition) vary among environments. Over time, populations evolve strategies to maximize growth and reproduction (i.e.,fitness) within a specific range of environmental factors. Outside an individual's environmental optima, or tolerance range, its physiology and/or behavior may be negatively affected, reducing its overall fitness (Figure 1). Reduced fitness can subsequently disrupt population dynamics and alter thecommunity as a whole (Figure 2). Bioindicator species effectively indicate the condition of the environment because of their moderate tolerance to environmental variability (Figure 1). In contrast, rare species (or species assemblages) with narrow tolerances are often too sensitive to environmental change, or too infrequently encountered, to reflect the general bioticresponse. Likewise, ubiquitous species (or species assemblages) with very broad tolerances are less sensitive to environmental changes which otherwise disturb the rest of the community. The use of bioindicators, however, is not just
An immediate response of cutthroat to thermal pollution occurs at the cellular level. causing compositional shifts to warmwater fisheries. burning. . We can quantify hsp levels to measure thermal stress in cutthroat trout and assess how the environment has been altered. cutthroat trout inhabit coldwater streams of the western United States. Entire communities. such physiological changes are generally tractable at the individual level through behavioral changes and subsequent reductions in growth and development. encompassing a broad range of environmental tolerances. large and persistent thermal alterations can reduce population numbers and even lead to local extinctions. their temperature sensitivity can be used as a bioindicator of water temperature. Specifically. and logging are examples of human-related disturbances that can increase water temperature in these streams and be detected by cutthroat trout at various biological scales (Figure 2). biological processes within an individual can act as bioindicators. however. heat shock protein (hsp) synthesis increases to protect vital cellular functions from thermal stress. In the most extreme instances. If thermal stress persists. thus.restricted to a single species with a limited environmental tolerance. can serve as bioindicators and represent multiple sources of data to assess environmental condition in a "biotic index" or "multimetric" approach. Most individuals have an upper thermal tolerance of 20°–25°C. Furthermore. Livestock grazing. For example.
Pteronarcys Salmonfly. lays eggs). substrate upon which an organism attaches. and the innermost colored ring represents the community in which all three species coexist. © 2010 Nature Education Illustrations by Summers Scholl. populations.g. These alterations may subsequently affect individual organisms.. The outermost colored ring represents individual organisms (cutthroat trout. These environmental changes may increase or decrease growth and reproduction of an organism. Phaedoactylum diatom).g. .. nutrients) environment. food. light).Figure 2: Diagram of the hierarchical levels of an ecosystem that respond to anthropogenic disturbances or natural stress The white ring of environmental variables includes factors that may be directly altered by disturbance or stress. water velocity. biotic interactions (e. or chemical (e.g.g. the middle colored ring represents populations of those organisms.. and the physical (e. herbivory). consequently impacting the size and productivity of the population and interactions with other species in the community. All rights reserved. competition.. or the community as a whole. Disturbance and stress may positively or negatively affect energy resources (e. uses for refugia. predation.
In this example. using the quantitative measurement of metal concentrations within individual lichens. blue. Lead. All rights reserved. and is trucked along a solitary road (~75 km in length) to storage facilities on the Chukchi Sea. The greatest concentration of each element occurred close to the road and declined with distance from the road. mineral ore is mined from Red Dog Mine. Zinc. Hasselbach and her colleagues examined whether this overland transport was affecting the surrounding terrestrial biota. © 2010 Nature Education Modified from Hasselbach et al. Cadmium). thus validating the hypothesis that overland transport was indeed altering the surrounding environment. 2005. yellow. Heavy metal content within moss tissue was compared at varying distances from the road (Figure 3). Here. green. lichens were used as biomonitors. Aluminum. Metal concentrations in moss tissue were greatest adjacent to the haul road and decreased with distance. (2005) used the moss Hylocomium splendens as an environmental indicator of heavy metals in the remote tundra ecosystem of northwestern Alaska.Figure 3: Relationship of elemental concentration within moss tissue (inset is Hylocomium splendens) to distance from the road in Alaska. . As an example. the world's largest producer of zinc (Zn). Hasselbach et al. demonstrating a marked impact of overland transport of mined ore on the biota. USA Each element is represented by a different set of colored dots (red.
Disturbanceintolerant EPT taxa markedly decline following an 85% reduction of stream flow (far right bar). Line represents water discharge (Q) at each site. metals. (2007) quantified aquatic macroinvertebrates to identify a threshold separating irrigation water withdrawals. aquatic macroinvertebrates possess many of the hallmark traits of good bioindicators (Table 1). representing a range of habitat preferences and life history strategies. disturbanceadapted non-insects thrive and increase under stressed conditions. Currently. non-insects). combined with elevated water temperatures. Bars represent the relative abundance of disturbance-intolerant taxa (green. is at the community scale. macroinvertebrate communities have been frequently used as environmental. and biodiversity indicators. reduced . due to their speciose nature. Oregon. © 2010 Nature Education Modified from Miller et al. Miller et al. ecological. which significantly reduces along an intensively managed 36-km section of the Umatilla River.Figure 4: Aquatic macroinvertebrates document a shift in community composition related to human-induced water withdrawals. The most common application of macroinvertebrates as bioindicators. which adversely affected the biota of river systems. For example. USA. An unimpaired stream or river commonly contains more than 40 identifiable taxa. all 50 states of the United States use aquatic macroinvertebrates to assess the biological health of streams and rivers. (2007). nutrients. Accordingly. Similar to lichens and bryophytes. and disturbance-adapted taxa (blue. EPT or Ephemeroptera-PlecopteraTrichoptera). All rights reserved. Water withdrawals exceeding 85% of ambient levels. Accordingly. including the presence of fine sediment. from withdrawal levels that did not influence the community. and hydrologic alterations. This taxonomic and functional diversity can capture the myriad responses to different stressors and disturbances.
While the use of whole communities (and all species' responses within them) can be informative. consequently shifting the community toward more disturbance-adapted species (Figure 4). while also using the responses of individual taxa. problems can arise in especially speciose habitats. ambient temperature. or organism. allowing the integration of current.. bioindicators add a temporal component corresponding to the life span or residence time of an organism in a particular system. Lastly. to indicate the mechanism(s) of environmental degradation (e.the proportion of disturbance-intolerant taxa. or groups of taxa. are required to detect such low concentrations. when such links are largely unknown. however. increasing the probability of missing sporadic pulses of pollutants. Indirect contaminant effects are especially difficult to glean from chemical or physical measurements in the case of bioaccumulation. Once identified. a pipe dumping phosphorus-rich sewage into a lake will adversely impact the ecosystem. accumulate in biological organisms. Another benefit of the use of bioindicators is their ability to indicate indirect biotic effects of pollutants when many physical or chemical measurements cannot. pollutants. many chemical and physical measurements only characterize conditions at the time of sampling. given the thousands of substances and factors to monitor. Provide measurable response (sensitive to the disturbance or stress but does not experience mortality or accummulate pollutants directly from their environment) Response reflects the whole population/community/ecosystem response Respond in proportion to the degree of contamination or degradation Adequate local population density (rare species are not optimal) Abundant and common Common. including distribution within area of question Relatively stable despite moderate climatic and environmental variability Ecology and life history well understood Well-studied Taxonomically well documented and stable Easy and cheap to survey Economically/commercially important Species already being harvested for other purposes Public interest in or awareness of the speces Good indicator ability Table 1: Regardless of the geographic region. Consequently.g.g. Tedious analyses with highly sensitive technologies. among other contaminants. Thus. past. may not accurately reflect a reduction in species diversity or how the growth and reproduction of other species may decline due to competitive exclusion. An average tropical rainforest may contain approximately 300 tree species per hectare and enumerating the response of each individual species to a disturbance is clearly unrealistic. therefore. environment. Thus macroinvertebrate populations can be used as biodiversity and ecological indicators at the community scale and environmental indicators at the population scale. nutrients. scientists must link any potential biological hazard with these trace amounts of contaminants. no matter how small. increased temperature or fine sediment levels) by which water withdrawals adversely impact aquatic ecosystems. type of disturbance. Clearly. Resource managers can use the integrated response of the entire macroinvertebrate community to relate how much water can be taken for irrigation before negative biological responses are seen. contaminant levels at higher trophic levels may be underrepresented by physical or chemical measurements. scientists now understand that the biota itself is the best predictor of how ecosystems respond to disturbance or the presence of a stressor. at a prohibitive cost. the use of bioindicators is fundamentally different from classic measures of environmental quality and offers numerous advantages. good bioindicators often share several characteristics.. Chemical measurements. contaminants can occur in exceedingly low concentrations. Alternatively. or future environmental conditions. we may predict that elevated phosphorus concentrations will increase the growth and reproduction of some species. the tolerance range of bioindicators provides a picture of biologically meaningful levels of pollutants. salinity. Why Are Bioindicators Better Than Traditional Methods? Scientists have traditionally conducted chemical assays and directly measured physical parameters of the environment (e. Metals. Furthermore. First. a clear bioindication signal can be obscured by an excessive . available light and gas levels). whereas the use of bioindicators uses the biota to assess the cumulative impacts of both chemical pollutants and habitat alterations over time. causing metal concentrations to amplify through food webs. In addition. In contrast. Phosphorous commonly limits primary production in freshwater ecosystems.
Ecologists have established a broad set of criteria that species must exhibit to be considered good bioindicators (see Table 1). Accordingly. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 78. In these cases. Freshwater Biology 52.. Alaska. 2494–2510 (2007). & Niemelä. W. Resistance and resilience of macroinvertebrates to irrigation water withdrawals. competition. Rainio. a fish) may fail to indicate the biodiversity of the local insect community. Benefits and Disadvantages of Bioindicators The numerous benefits of bioindicators have spurred legislative mandates for their use in countries around the world and their inclusion in several international accords. but this can represent a gross oversimplification of a complex system. They bring together information from the biological. J. However. 1986. References and Recommended Reading "1986: Coal mine canaries made redundant. the limitations of bioindicators are clearly overshadowed by their benefits. Moreover.. some species may increase while others decrease). disease. et al. Iwama. Spatial patterns of cadmium and lead deposition on and adjacent to National Park Service lands in the vicinity of Red Dog Mine. et al. Without the moss in the tundra. Like the canaries in the coal mine. From a management perspective.number of divergent species' responses (e. complicating our picture of the causal mechanisms of change." BBC News. and local disturbances. Rosenberg. bioindicators inform our actions as to what is and is not biologically sustainable. Finally. & M. Freshwater Biomonitoring and Benthic Macroinvertebrates. G. we rely upon the sensitivity of some bioindicators to function as early-warning signals. Bioindicators can be employed at a range of scales. Third. . D.g. we cannot discriminate natural variability from changes due to human impacts. or a small group of species. a common problem with chemical and physical measurements is that they simplify a complicated response inherent in these speciesrich habitats.. December 12. the overall objective of bioindicators is to use a single species. community composition. population density. V.7 million species that currently documented on Earth. & Resh. NY: Chapman and Hall.g. K. Bioindicators of POPs: Monitoring in Developing Countries. In some instances. 35–56 (1998). from the cellular to the ecosystem level. Yet bioindicators are not without their problems. Like all management tools. What Makes a Good Bioindicator? Considering the 1. Bioindicators rely upon the complicated intricacies of ecosystems and use a representative or aggregated response to convey a dynamic picture of the condition of the environment. This narrowed approach makes monitoring more biologically relevant and cost-effective. Kyoto. Biodiversity and Conservation 12. and chemical components of our world that manifest themselves as changes in individual fitness. V. J. a large vertebrate indicator (e. S. L. physical. S. and ecosystem processes.-C. A second criticism of the use of bioindicators is that their indicator ability is scale-dependent. Miller. Carignan. New York. appropriate bioindicator species or groups of species need to be selected. M. Managing an ecosystem according to the habitat requirements of a particular bioindicator may fail to protect rare species with different requirements. For example. populations of indicator species may be influenced by factors other than the disturbance or stress (e. parasitism. the species present. Selecting indicator species to monitor ecological integrity: A review. we must be conscious of its flaws. 45–61 (2002). A. to assess the quality of an environment and how it changes over time. Hasselbach. Depending upon the specific environment.g. to evaluate the health of a particular ecosystem. 2006. & Subramanian. the cutthroat in the mountain stream. 211–230 (2005). Heat shock protein expression in fish. we may not recognize the impact of our disturbances before it is too late to do anything to prevent them. Villard. et al. predation). Ground beetles (Coleoptera: Carabidae) as bioindicators. how do we chose just one as a bioindicator? The answer is simple: No single species can adequately indicate every type of disturbance or stress in all environments. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 8. thus limiting the applicability of bioindicators in heterogeneous environments. 1992. to integrate all the direct and indirect effects of a disturbance scientists focus only on a subset of the biota or single species to tell the story. Tanabe. Japan: Kyoto University Press. bioindicator species invariably have differing habitat requirements than other species in their ecosystem. H. and the canary in the coal mine. Science of the Total Environment 348. 487– 506 (2003).
DISPERSAL. and Human Impact . Players. AND DIVERSIFICATION OF ORGANISMS Terrestrial Biomes The Geography and Ecology of Diversification in Neotropical Freshwaters Environmental Constraints to the Geographic Expansion of Plant and Animal Species Causes and Consequences of Dispersal in Plants and Animals Causes and Consequences of Biodiversity Declines Disease Ecology MISCELLANEOUS Coastal Processes and Beaches Deep Atlantic Circulation During the Last Glacial Maximum and Deglaciation Drip Water Hydrology and Speleothems Modeling Sea Level Rise Ocean Acidification Rivers and Streams — Water and Sediment in Motion Rock. Outline | Keywords Explore This Topic KEY CHALLENGES Global Change: An Overview Conservation of Biodiversity EARTH'S CLIMATE SYSTEM Introduction to the Basic Drivers of Climate BIOGEOGRAPHY: DISTRIBUTION. Water. Microbes: Underwater Sinkholes in Lake Huron are Habitats for Ancient Microbial Life What Happens AFTER Global Warming? SCIENTIFIC PERSPECTIVES Principles of Landscape Ecology Spatial Ecology and Conservation Restoration Ecology ECOSYSTEM PROCESSES: ENERGY FLOWS AND BIOGEOCHEMICAL CYCLING Energy Economics in Ecosystems The Nitrogen Cycle: Processes.
Dispersal. and Diversification of Organisms (6) Methods in Research and Monitoring (1) Miscellaneous (8) Or Browse Visually Related Topics Ecology Evolution Ecosystem Ecology Physiological Ecology Population Ecology Community Ecology Global and Regional Ecology Conservation and Restoration Animal Behavior Teach Ecology People Groups . II Within this Topic (26) Key Challenges (2) Scientific Perspectives (3) Earth's Climate System (1) Ecosystem Processes: Energy Flows and Biogeochemical Cycling (5) Biogeography: Distribution.Earth's Ferrous Wheel The Ecology of Fire Effects of Rising Atmospheric Concentrations of Carbon Dioxide on Plants METHODS IN RESEARCH AND MONITORING Bioindicators: Using Organisms to Measure Environmental Impacts Recent Activity New post in Green Science: Air Pollution and Childhood Obesity New post in Labcoat Life: A Rose By Any Other Name Would Look As Red New post in Bioscience eLearning: Long time no post….
Blogs Student Voices Creature Cast NatureEdCast Simply Science .
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.