While biodiversity assessment is mainly viewed as a tool for producing species lists and discovering species new to science, it’s not as well known that it is also a tool for assessing the status and health of ecosystems. Scientists conducting biodiversity surveys use the species list and other data collected (e.g. habitat disturbance, evidence of hunting etc) to evaluate and often compare the status of the ecosystem in order to make recommendations for its conservation. We also will often record data on many ecological services (such as watershed flows) and use of biodiversity by local people. Species composition can be used to evaluate whether an ecosystem still contains the necessary species components or if it’s losing its integrity.
Many species groups have long been used as bio-indicators of disturbance, pollution, and other aspects of ecosystem health. We will soon post lots of information here on how to use species data and other information from biodiversity surveys to assess ecosystem health, including a database on published bio-indicator papers. We're also working on a package of modified RAP methods to quickly assess ecosystem health and project success (see RAPToolKit). So check back frequently for new information!
There is already a lot of literature and research on the use of species as indicators of a wide variety of ecosystem parameters, including to detect changes in the natural environment; to detect and monitor pollution and its effects on the ecosystem; to monitor the progress of environmental cleanup; and to test drinking water for the presence of contaminants.
To start, here are a few websites with some general information about some of the most frequent uses of bioindicators.
General information on BioIndicators, Terrestrial and Freshwater Indicators –
Index of Biotic Integrity- freshwater indicators