Journal of Insect Conservation

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 831–850 | Cite as

Terrestrial invertebrates as bioindicators: an overview of available taxonomic groups

  • Justin Gerlach
  • Michael Samways
  • James Pryke


Bioindicators, as taxa or functional groups, are widely used as indicators of environmental change, specific ecological factors or taxonomic diversity. The use of ecological, environmental and biodiversity indicators, is reviewed here. Although indicator taxa are considered to be generally unreliable as broad indicators of biodiversity, they may serve a useful function in identifying ecological characteristics or monitoring the effects of habitat management. Use of only a narrow range of taxa may be unreliable, and is particularly vulnerable to distortion by a small number of invasive species. Taxa also need to be selected to reflect the specific ecosystem being studied. It is recommended that isopods be used for soil systems (if there is sufficient local diversity), in some areas earthworms or mites may be useable but are generally too difficult to identify to be practically useful. In the ground layer indicator sets could include ants, millipedes, molluscs (snails in particular), ground beetles, harvestmen and gnaphosid spiders. Foliage-inhabiting indicators could comprise ants, chrysomelid leaf beetles, theridiid spiders and arctiid moths. Ants, orthopterans and butterflies may be appropriate for use in open habitats. These basic sets should be supplemented by other taxa where appropriate resources and taxonomic expertise are available.


Biodiversity Bioindicators Invertebrates Monitoring 



JG acknowledges financial support from the IUCN/Species Survival Commission, MJS the National Research Foundation, South Africa, and JSP Mondi, UK.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CambridgeUK
  2. 2.Department of Conservation Ecology and EntomologyStellenbosch UniversityMatielandSouth Africa

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