, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 1171-1185

An easy-to-use index of ecological integrity for prioritizing freshwater sites and for assessing habitat quality

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Abstract

Prioritizing and assessing the condition of sites for conservation action requires robust and ergonomic methodological tools. We focus here on prioritizing freshwater sites using two promising biodiversity indices, the Dragonfly Biotic Index (DBI) and Average Taxonomic Distinctness (AvTD). The AvTD had no significant association with either species richness or endemism. In contrast, the DBI was highly significantly associated with species richness and endemism, although the strengths of the associations were weak. These associations are related to how the sub-indices in the DBI are weighted, and how species are distributed geographically. Additionally, the DBI was found to be very useful for site selection based on its ability to measure ecological integrity, combined with level of threat, at multiple spatial scales. The AvTD was found to be useful principally for regional use. As the DBI is a low-cost, easy-to-use method, it has the additional use as a method for assessing habitat quality and recovery in restoration programs. The DBI operates at the species level, and is therefore highly sensitive to habitat condition and has great potential for environmental assessment and monitoring freshwater biodiversity and quality. Practical, worked examples of river restoration are given here. In view of the ease and versatility by which the DBI can be employed, we recommend its testing and possible integration into freshwater management and conservation schemes elsewhere in the world.