Using Ant Communities For Rapid Assessment Of Terrestrial Ecosystem Health

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Measurement of ecosystem health is a very important but often difficult and sometimes fractious topic for applied ecologists. It is important because it can provide information about effects of various external influences like chemical, nuclear, and physical disturbance, and invasive species. Ecosystem health is also a measure of the rate or trajectory of degradation or recovery of systems that are currently suffering impact or those where restoration or remediation have taken place. Further, ecosystem health is the single best indicator of the quality of long term environmental stewardship because it not only provides a baseline condition, but also the means ... continued below

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Wike, L June 1, 2005.

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Description

Measurement of ecosystem health is a very important but often difficult and sometimes fractious topic for applied ecologists. It is important because it can provide information about effects of various external influences like chemical, nuclear, and physical disturbance, and invasive species. Ecosystem health is also a measure of the rate or trajectory of degradation or recovery of systems that are currently suffering impact or those where restoration or remediation have taken place. Further, ecosystem health is the single best indicator of the quality of long term environmental stewardship because it not only provides a baseline condition, but also the means for future comparison and evaluation. Ecosystem health is difficult to measure because there are a nearly infinite number of variables and uncertainty as to which suites of variables are truly indicative of ecosystem condition. It would be impossible and prohibitively expensive to measure all those variables, or even all the ones that were certain to be valid indicators. Measurement of ecosystem health can also be a fractious topic for applied ecologists because there are a myriad of opinions as to which variables are the most important, most easily measured, most robust, and so forth. What is required is an integrative means of evaluating ecosystem health. All ecosystems are dynamic and undergo change either stochastically, intrinsically, or in response to external influences. The basic assumption about change induced by exogenous antropogenic influences is that it is directional and measurable. Historically measurements of surrogate parameters have been used in an attempt to quantify these changes, for example extensive water chemistry data in aquatic systems. This was the case until the 1980's when the Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) (Karr et al. 1986), was developed. This system collects an array of metrics and fish community data within a stream ecosystem and develops a score or rating for the relative health of the ecosystem. The IBI, though originally for Midwestern streams, has been successfully adapted to other ecoregions and taxa (macroinvertebrates, Lombard and Goldstein, 2004) and has become an important tool for scientists and regulatory agencies alike in determining health of stream ecosystems. The IBI is a specific type of a larger group of methods and procedures referred to as Rapid Bioassessment (RBA). These protocols have the advantage of directly measuring the organisms affected by system perturbations, thus providing an integrated evaluation of system health because the organisms themselves integrate all aspects of their environment and its condition. In addition to the IBI, the RBA concept has also been applied to seep wetlands (Paller et al. 2005) and terrestrial systems (O'Connell et al. 1998, Kremen et al. 1993, Rodriguez et al. 1998, Rosenberg et al. 1986). Terrestrial RBA methods have lagged somewhat behind those for aquatic systems because terrestrial systems are less distinctly defined and seem to have a less universal distribution of an all-inclusive taxon, such as fish in the IBI, upon which to base an RBA. In the last decade, primarily in Australia, extensive development of an RBA using ant communities has shown great promise. Ants have the same advantage for terrestrial RBAs that fish do for aquatic systems in that they are an essential and ubiquitous component of virtually all terrestrial ecosystems. They occupy a broad range of niches, functional groups, and trophic levels and they possess one very important characteristic that makes them ideal for RBA because, similar to the fishes, there is a wide range of tolerance to conditions within the larger taxa. Within ant communities there are certain groups, genera, or species that may be very robust and abundant under even the harshest impacts. There are also taxa that are very sensitive to disturbance and change and their presence or absence is also indicative of the local conditions. Also, as with the aquatic RBAs using macroinvertebrates, ants have a wide variety of functional foraging or feeding groups, by whose abundance or scarcity an evaluation of the system health may be made. Much of the ground work has been done for useful ant RBAs, but it has primarily been in Australia, Europe, the US desert Southwest, and South America. However, the work already done will transport well to other ecoregions and as has been done with the IBI, it could be adapted with an appropriate investment of time and resources. It would be necessary to establish taxonomic expertise, allocate the local ant fauna to functional groups, and evaluation and modification of metrics and characteristics used to develop indices in the existing methods. Successful adaptation and application of an ant RBA would provide a cost effective, useful, and robust tool for evaluating the health of terrestrial ecosystems anywhere in the region.

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  • Report No.: WSRC-TR-2005-00283
  • Grant Number: DE-AC09-96SR18500
  • DOI: 10.2172/890187 | External Link
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 890187
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc883123

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  • June 1, 2005

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • Sept. 21, 2016, 2:29 a.m.

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  • Nov. 2, 2016, 1:22 p.m.

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Wike, L. Using Ant Communities For Rapid Assessment Of Terrestrial Ecosystem Health, report, June 1, 2005; [Aiken, South Carolina]. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc883123/: accessed July 20, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.