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Species: How are animals selected to tell us about our waterbodies? – Swim Guide
Gabrielle Parent-Doliner, Director of Swimmable Water Programs
February 5, 2018
In October 2017 Swim Guide welcomed a new country to our family: Australia. In the process we learned that the platypus serve as an indicator species of the health of freshwater lakes in Eastern Australia. This got us thinking: Shouldn’t all animals and plants be able to represent the health of their habitats? How does an animal or plant get nominated as an indicator species for their habitat?
To answer these questions let’s start by looking at the job of an indicator species.
What is an indicator species?
Indicator species (IS) are animals, plants, or microorganism used to monitor changes in our environment. For example, they can tell us about the impact of pollution on an ecosystem, or how well an impaired environment is being managed or restored. Indicator species can also provide warning signals for upcoming changes or shifts to an ecosystem, such as climate change.
Why do scientists and researchers single out one species to study, rather than studying all life in an ecosystem?
Monitoring all lifeforms in an ecosystem to understand the health of an environment is very expensive and, logistically, nearly impossible. Therefore, indicator species are a solution to the cost and logistical restrictions of studying all species in an environment. This is similar to the way indicator bacteria are used to assess the recreational water quality. Indicator species serve as surrogates to the overall well-being of the plant and animal life in a particular environment. In other words, conclusions can be drawn about an ecosystem by studying an indicator species.
How is a species selected to serve as an environmental indicator ?
The best way to choose an indicator species is carefully. Using indicator species as ecological indicators is still a fairly new practice, but it is becoming more and more common. Selecting an appropriate indicator species and identifying the relationship between these species and their environment is a tall order.
Scientists and researchers must justify the selection of a species as a bioindicator, and be able to evaluate IS to accurately reflect or predict environmental conditions. The quality of indicator species as a surrogate of their environment, and relationship between that species and the ecological variant impacts the research team’s ability to produce reliable data or conclusions.
Famous Indicator Species
Platypus: indicate improving water quality
Platypus are a very resilient species. Rather than serving as an indicator of pollution, they they actually serve as an indicator of rehabilitated water quality and successful conservation efforts. Platypus are typically one of the first species to return to a waterbody when the quality starts to improve. They let scientists and researchers know that the health of the environment is starting to get better.
Mullusca / Mussels : indicate contamination and overall waterbody health
Fresh and salt water mussels are a beloved indicator species. They are sessile, meaning fixed in one place. Their fixed addressed combined with their filter feeding make them extremely sensitive to contamination, or to changes in the conditions of their environment, such as temperature, oxygen levels, and acidity.
NOAA’s famous Mussel Watch program monitors mussels to “to quantify and assess spatial and temporal trends in coastal contamination, and to provide a baseline to assess impacts of anthropogenic and natural events, including chemical spills, tropical storms, and hurricanes.”
Grunion: indicate sandy beach ecosystem health
Grunions are a landlubbing fish, found along the Pacific Coast of California and the Baja Peninsula. These little fish take to the sand on high tides following the full moon to mate. They lay their eggs at the high tide level and the beach serves as a sandy nursery for grunion eggs and larvae. So, researchers found that the success of the grunion’s reproductive cycle is a good indicator of the ecological health of the sandy beaches. Grunions are particularly sensitive to human impact on beaches, such as beach grooming, imported sand and fill. Programs, such as the citizen science the Grunion Greeters project, collect critical data on the fish, and provide a picture of how well their environment is doing.
Redside Dace: indicate clean, clear freshwater and natural physical habitat
The Redside Dace is an endangered fish species under Canada’s Federal Endangered Species Act. They need clean, clear water to thrive as they leap out of the water and eat air-based insects. They are an important indicator species for the overall health of a waterbody. Redside Dace need clean water and overhanging vegetation to survive. Urban development and sewage pollution are the biggest threats to Dace. Ontario is home to 80% of the world’s population of this vital indicator species and due to rapid urban development it is at risk of total extinction. Shoreline destruction and wastewater run off is depleting redside dace habitat.
Visit the Great Lakes Challenge site or watch this Grandfather Frog learn about Redside Dace in this Kidoons video to learn more.
Mayflies: indicate health of freshwater bodies
As annoying as a mayfly in your drink, your hair, your everything, may be their presence is cause for celebration. Mayflies are incredibly sensitive to pollution, and are considered a indicator species for the health of freshwater bodies.
Lobsters: indicate climate change and rising ocean temperatures
Lobsters have become the face of rising ocean temperatures, serving as a climate change indicator in marine coasts around the world. Rising ocean temperatures impact oxygen levels, salinity, currents, and man other conditions to which lobsters are sensitive. Lobster species, and regional populations, are reacting to climate change in different ways. Therefore they are helping scientist understand the impact of rising temperatures and changing marine conditions.
Especially relevant are the American lobsters on the Northeast coast of the US. Waters in Northeast US are warming at nearly twice the rate as the global average of 0.12oC every decade since 1980. American lobsters in Long Island Sound, New England, and other locations along the East Coast of the USA are suffering from a rise “shell rot”. Shell rot is a condition in which bacteria eat into and sometimes through their shells. Scientist are linking the increase in cases and severity of “shell rot,” to the rise in temperature. In addition, lobster populations are moving north up the coast into cooler waters around Maine and Canada in reaction to the warming waters.
Other ongoing studies include the relationship of rising temperatures and the increase of Panulirus argus virus 1 (PaV1) virus in spiny lobsters in the Caribbean.
Extra Information About what does an indicator species tell us about the health of an ecosystem That You May Find Interested
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Frequently Asked Questions About what does an indicator species tell us about the health of an ecosystem
If you have questions that need to be answered about the topic what does an indicator species tell us about the health of an ecosystem, then this section may help you solve it.
What can an indicator species tell us about an ecosystem’s health? quiz
Indicator species ‘b>provide a sign that there may be a problem with pollution in the ecosystem’/b>, which is what they tell us about the health of an ecosystem.
How do indicator species function within an ecosystem?
An organism that is extremely sensitive to environmental changes in its ecosystem is known as an indicator species. Indicator species are almost immediately impacted by changes to the ecosystem and can provide early warning that a habitat is in trouble.
What information are provided by indicator species?
A species, or group of species, that reflect the biotic or abiotic state of an environment, reveal evidence for, or the effects of, environmental change, or indicate the diversity of other species, taxa, or entire communities within an area are all examples of indicator species.
Quiz: What can indicator species reveal about the environment?
The carrying capacity tells you how many species an environment can support, and the indicator species help you assess the health of an ecosystem, so taken together, the indicator species can determine whether the carrying capacity is large or small.
What are indicator species, and how do they aid in determining the quality of the water?
An indicator species (IS) is an animal, plant, or microorganism that is used to track changes in our environment. For instance, they can inform us of the effects of pollution on an ecosystem or the efficiency with which a degraded environment is managed or restored.
What signs of environmental health are there?
Environmental health indicators provide information for action by describing the relationship between the environment and health. They are based on known or conceivable cause-and-effect relationships between the environment and health.
What is an indicator’s primary purpose?
At the stoichiometric end point of the titration, which occurs when a specific concentration of an acid or a base is completely neutralized, the indicator is the substance that changes or imparts a particular color.
How does the analysis of indicator species work?
Indicator species analysis (ISA) estimates the strength of an organism’s associations with a priori groups of interest using indices of relative abundance and occurrence, and it assesses the likelihood of association using a straightforward randomization test.
What is an indicator’s primary function?
An indicator is a particular, observable, and measurable characteristic that can be used to demonstrate how well a program is working toward a particular goal.
Why are indicator species a cause for concern?
According to National Geographic, indicator species are studied and monitored by scientists to spot potential changes in an ecosystem brought on by pollution, climate change, changes in land use, and other factors because they are so sensitive to environmental changes.
What other names have indicator species had?
A good indicator species can offer ecology researchers biotic data that can shed light on current environmental conditions. An indicator species, or bioindicator, is a plant or animal group whose population reflects the environmental health of an ecosystem.
The meaning of environmental indicators
a variable or a value deriving from a variable that describes the state of the environment and how it affects people, ecosystems, and materials, as well as the pressures that the environment is under, as well as the forces that are pushing it forward and the reactions that are controlling it.
Quiz: Why are indicator species significant to scientists?
Frogs, for instance, are an indicator species that can alert us before an ecosystem is damaged. Indicator species reflect environmental conditions, and we should protect them from extinction.
What in biology is an indicator species?
Indicator species can signal a change in the biological condition of a specific ecosystem and can therefore be used as a proxy to diagnose the health of an ecosystem. An indicator species is an organism whose presence, absence, or abundance reflects a specific environmental condition.
What function does an indicator serve in biology?
Endospores, or bacterial spores, are the microorganisms primarily used in BIs, and they provide information on whether necessary conditions were met to kill a specified number of microorganisms for a given sterilization process, providing a level of confidence in the process.