Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
FIA Project Y081131

    Using few species to assess the sustainability of many species
Project lead: Bunnell, Fred (University of British Columbia)
Contributing Authors: Bunnell, Fred L.; Preston, Michael I.
Subject: Forest Investment Account (FIA), British Columbia
Series: Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
The broad question asked is "Are there species or groups of species that can be used to infer habitat condition for a variety of other species, and, if so, which ones?" The problem is that of developing credible approaches to planning for sustaining biodiversity and monitoring apparent success in planned efforts. Specifically, there are too many species for each to be addressed individually in planning, practice or monitoring.
This project documents ways of simplifying the task and employing coarse filters cost effectively. It addresses three broad activities: planning for sustainable forestry, selecting and distributing practices for sustainability, and monitoring. It exploits two patterns in nature: 1) some species have very similar habitat affinities that are well documented, but often not generalized, and 2) other species show responses to habitat change that are poorly understood but highly correlated and repeatable. In each case, a smaller number of species can credibly assess the likelihood that other species will be present. Ecological theory argues that 1:1 relations among species’ responses to habitat are impossible, but the statistical variability (risk) can be quantified and frequently is relatively small. Much has been written on the use of flagship, umbrella or keystone species as surrogates to represent needs of all species; each has weaknesses. Flagship species usually have high public profile, but often do not represent the rest of the community and require large resources to monitor (Caro & O’Doherty 1999; Simberloff 1998). Using umbrella species, whose needs encompass those of many other species, is an attractive concept, but whether other species fall ‘under the umbrella’ is often more a matter of faith than of evidence (Roberge & Anglestam 2004). Monitoring keystone species, those that play critical roles in a community, has promise (Simberloff 1998), but keystone species are difficult to identify and the notion that only a few species are critical to the ecosystem is contrary to some theories of community ecology. The complexity of ecological interactions and ignorance about them argue against strict application of keystone species as focus for monitoring (Mills et al. 1993). Similarly, reviews of species-based monitoring approaches reveal that no single species, nor even a group of species, accurately reflect entire communities. Understanding the response of a single species may not provide reliable predictions of a group of species even when the group consists of a few very similar species (Lindenmayer 1999). Typically, one group of organisms (e.g., vascular plants) is not a comprehensive surrogate for responses of other groups (e.g., insects or lichens; Chiarucci et al. 2005; Grenyer et al. 2006; Oliver et al. 1998). Failure of species-based biodiversity surrogates has occurred across a wide range of environments (Lindenmayer and Fisher 2003). Despite weaknesses of any single approach, we still need to select species to monitor. We propose specific ways of doing that (see methods). The project is viewed as potentially three-years with reduced costs in the third year. Briefly: Year 1: primarily office based and analytical, devise simple field tests, implement the simplest tests, assess ability to incorporate non-vertebrate species, report findings to date. Year 2: continue analytical approach incorporating non-vertebrates, implement field tests, report findings to date. Year 3: with industrial and government partners, implement focused analyses for specific areas that permit implementation of findings; journal publications; summary report. A major thrust of this project is to analyze appropriate data collected over 15 years at many sites. These include coastal sites on Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii and the mainland coast (TFL’s 37 and 39); southeastern sites in the Cranbrook and Inveremere TSAs, and northeastern sites (TFL 48, Fort St. John and Fort Nelson TSAs), and central sites (Prince George TSA). Most data are for vertebrates, primarily birds and small mammals. Some are for lichens, bryophytes and vascular plants. Data describe both habitat and the species present. A secondary thrust, is to modify existing work with industrial and government partners to provide simple field tests of relationships. Initial tests, among classes of vertebrates, can be implemented in year 1. Birds are the backbone of much monitoring for biodiversity because they are the richest component of vertebrate diversity, show a wide range of habitat requirements and often are readily surveyed. An objective within year 1 is to evaluate potential associations of other vertebrate species with specific individual bird species, or groups of bird species. Analyses will be hypothesis driven. We expect initial efforts to focus on amphibians and key seasonal habitats of large mammals. Year 2 will include refinement of analyses, evaluation of non-vertebrate data, and more focused field testing. Initial expansion beyond vertebrates will be to vascular plants and lichens. Data for these species are not evenly distributed across all sites from which data are drawn. Because we intend to employ simple field tests, tests will be localized for specific groups of species and are unlikely to include more than two broad areas. A third year is envisioned only if associations are encompassing enough that industrial partners wish to expand and apply them to specific DFAs. That requires more focused analyses on specific areas, workshops, and modification of findings into specific monitoring plans.
Caro, T.M. & G. O’Doherty. 1999. On the use of surrogate species in conservation biology. Cons. Biol. 13: 805-814. ? Chiarucci, A. et al. 2005. Using vascular plants as a surrogate taxon to maximize fungal species richness in reserve design. Cons. Biol.19: 1644-52. ? Grenyer et al. 2006. Global distribution and conservation or rare and threatened vertebrates. Nature 444: 93-96 ? Lindenmayer, D. B. 1999. Future directions for biodiversity conservation in managed forests: indicator species, impact studies and monitoring programs. For. Ecol. & Mgmnt. 115: 277-287. ? Lindenmayer, D.B. & J. Fischer. 2003. Sound science or social hook – a response to Brooker’s application of the focal species approach. Lands. & Urban Plan. 62: 149-158. ? Mills, S.L., et al. 1993. The keystone-species concept in ecology and conservation. BioScience 43: 219-224 ? Oliver, I., A.J. Beattie, & A. York. 1998. Spatial fidelity of plant, vertebrate, and invertebrate assemblages in multiple use forest in eastern Australia. Cons. Biol. 12: 822-835 ? Roberge, J.M. & P.Angelstam. 2004. Usefulness of the umbrella species. concept as a conservation tool. Cons. Biol. 18: 76-85. ? Simberloff, D. 1998. Flagships, umbrellas, and keystones: is single species management passé in the landscape era? Biol. Cons. 83: 247-257.
Related projects:  FSP_Y092131FSP_Y103131


Executive Summary (22Kb)
Progress Report (Objective 3) (20Kb)
Progress Report (Objectives 1 and 2) (0.2Mb)

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Updated August 16, 2010 

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