Indicators for biodiversity are needed to facilitate the identification of complementary
reserve networks for biodiversity conservation. One widely adopted
approach is to use indicator taxa, i.e. a single taxon such as birds or butterflies,
despite the ongoing debate regarding their usefulness as indicators of broader
biodiversity. Here we assess several aspects, such as influence of species number,
of indicator taxa for three extensive data sets to improve our insight into the effectiveness
of indicator taxa.
Denmark, sub-Saharan Africa and Uganda.
First, we investigate to what extent variation in species number between
indicator taxa (e.g. 488 mammal spp. vs. 210 snake spp.) is causing the differences in
effectiveness between indicator taxa. Second, we investigate whether indicator taxa
are capable of outperforming indicator groups composed of random sets of species
chosen among all taxa. Finally, we assess the correlation of specific properties such as
mean range size of the indicator taxa to their effectiveness. We investigate these
aspects of the effectiveness of indicator taxa through the separate analysis of three
distinct distributional species data sets: sub-Saharan Africa (4,039 spp.), Denmark
(847 spp.) and Uganda (2,822 spp.).
We overall found that indicator taxa comprising a greater number of species
tend to perform better than indicator taxa with fewer species (e.g. 488 mammal
spp. outperform 210 snake spp.), although there are some exceptions. Second, we
found most indicator taxa to perform worse than indicator groups consisting of a
comparable number of species selected among all taxa. Finally, the effectiveness of
indicator taxa was seen to correlate poorly with selected distributional properties
such as mean range size of the indicator taxa, suggesting that it is difficult to predict
which taxa are efficient biodiversity indicators.
Overall, these findings might suggest that focus should simply
be on increasing the number of species among all taxa as basis for priority setting,
rather than striving to obtain the ‘perfect’ indicator taxa.|