Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 20, Issue 14, pp 3555–3575

The efficacy of common species as indicators: avian responses to disturbance in British Columbia, Canada

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10531-011-0148-3

Cite this article as:
Koch, A.J., Drever, M.C. & Martin, K. Biodivers Conserv (2011) 20: 3555. doi:10.1007/s10531-011-0148-3


Common species can be major drivers of species richness patterns and make major contributions to biomass and ecosystem function, and thus should be important targets for conservation efforts. However, it is unclear how common species respond to disturbance, because the underlying reasons for their commonness may buffer or amplify their responses to disturbance. To assess how well common species reflect changes in their community (and thus function as indicator species), we studied 58 bird species in 19 mixed conifer patches in northern British Columbia, Canada, between 1998 and 2010. During this time period two disturbance events occurred, stand level timber harvest and a regional-scale bark beetle outbreak. We examined relationships among densities of individual species, total bird density and overall species richness, correlations in abundance among species, and responses to disturbance events. We found three broad patterns. First, densities of common species corresponded more strongly with changes in total bird density and overall species richness than rare species. These patterns were non-linear and species with intermediate-high commonness showed similar or better correspondence than the most common species. Second, common species tended to be more strongly correlated with abundances of all other species in the community than less-common species, although on average correlations among species were weak. Third, ecological traits (foraging guild, migratory status) were better predictors of responses to disturbance than species commonness. These results suggest that common species can collectively be used to reflect changes in the overall community, but that whenever possible monitoring programs should be extended to include species of intermediate-high commonness and representatives from different ecological guilds.


Community indicatorsDisturbanceHarvestingIndicator speciesMonitoringMountain pine beetle

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amelia J. Koch
    • 1
    • 2
  • Mark C. Drever
    • 1
    • 3
  • Kathy Martin
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Forest Sciences, Centre for Applied Conservation ResearchUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  2. 2.Forest Practices AuthorityHobartAustralia
  3. 3.Environment Canada, Pacific Wildlife Research CentreDeltaCanada