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Using indicator species to assess the state of macrobenthic communities

Lookup NU author(s): Silvana Bustos-Baez, Professor Christopher Frid


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Environmental impact assessments are often followed by the continuous monitoring needed to determine com-munity change. This long-term monitoring can be time-consuming and expensive. The concept of indicator species attempts to use their presence in a sample or area to characterise a certain degree of community change or pollution effects. This approach has been widely applied to benthic monitoring studies. However, many studies develop their own list of 'indicators' in cases without having a prior knowledge of the area or any long-term data. This can result in the production of circular arguments. We carry out a meta-analysis on data sets from 5 of the 20 designated United Kingdom's sewage sludge dumping grounds and the data set from the classic study of Pearson & Rosenberg (1978). We construct a number of indices to examine this robustness across studies. Having refined our criteria for an 'indicator taxa' we examine the spatial and temporal changes in macrobenthic communities occurring at the Tyne sewage sludge dumpsite to examine the utility of this approach. Of the total pool of 123 taxa, 81 taxa responded in one study only. While Spio filicornis (O. F. Müller), Spiophanes bombyx (Claparède), Lagis koreni (Malmgren) and Nephtys cirrosa (Ehlers) showed directly contradictory patterns in different locations. The Spearman's rank correlation test showed a significant negative relationship between the density of macro-litter per station found at the Tyne dumping ground and the abundance of Abra alba (Wood) (rs = 0.462, n = 6, P = 0.1) and Amphiura filiformis (O. F. Müller)(rs = 0.493, n = 6, P = 0.1). These were the only indicator taxa, which showed a strong relationship to sewage contamination. We therefore conclude that while the concept of indicators may be widely applicable, the actual indicator taxa are not. This demonstrate that the used of indicators must be continually developed providing prior information of the study area.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Bustos-Baez S, Frid C

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Hydrobiologia

Year: 2003

Volume: 496

Pages: 299-309

ISSN (print): 0018-8158

ISSN (electronic): 1573-5117

Publisher: Springer


DOI: 10.1023/A:1026169520547


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