Indicator Species

Have you ever heard the term indicator species before? Maybe. Maybe not. What does it mean to be an indicator species?

In short, an indicator species is one whose presence or absence reflects the condition of the environment and can be used as gauge for the overall health of an ecosystem. Indicator species be any living creature, be it animal or plant! Conservation biologists use these species as representatives for the overall biodiversity in an ecosystem by monitoring fluctuations in their population in relation to management practices.

Properly identifying an indicator species is no simply task though! According to the Encyclopedia of Life, “the organism’s presence, absence or abundance must be linked to an environmental condition in a scientifically-sound manner to justify its use as a conservation practitioner’s proxy.” In other words, scientists must identify a species that is directly being impacted by management practices. If not, then they will not accurately reflect the impact of changes that are occurring in the environment. Prairie dogs, for example, are considered to be an indicator species in grassland ecosystems because they are sensitive to pesticides and other contaminants often used in agriculture.

Can you think of any indicator species that live in Nevada?

Denise Peterson

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