Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
FIA Project Y103131

    Using few species to assess the sustainability of many species
Project lead: Fred Bunnell (University of British Columbia)
Contributing Authors: Bunnell, Fred L.; Kremsater, Laurie L.; Farr, Anthea; Moy, Arnold
Subject: Forest Investment Account (FIA), British Columbia
Series: Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
The broad question initially asked was “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 filter analyses 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 may 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 sometimes 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 was initially viewed as potentially lasting 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 (this year): with industrial and government partners, implement focused analyses for specific areas that permit implementation of findings; journal publication; summary report.

A major thrust of this project was to analyze appropriate data collected over 16 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. Some are for lichens, bryophytes and vascular plants. Data describe both habitat and the species present.

A secondary thrust was to modify existing work with industrial and government partners to provide simple field tests of relationships. Initial tests, among classes of vertebrates, were 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 was to evaluate potential associations of other vertebrate species with specific individual bird species, or groups of bird species.

Year 2 included refinement of analyses, evaluation of non-vertebrate data, and more focused field testing. Initial expansion beyond vertebrates was to vascular plants, odonates and butterflies. Data for these species are not evenly distributed across all sites from which data are drawn. Because we employed simple field tests, tests were localized for specific groups of species.

A third year was envisioned only if associations were useful enough that partners were willing to expand and apply them to specific DFAs or other areas. That requires more focused analyses on specific areas, workshops, and modification of findings into specific monitoring plans. Discussion with Canadian Forest Products, Western Forest Products, BCMoE Canadian Wildlife Service and FREP representatives has led to focus on three areas: Invermere and Radium TSAs, the coast – major islands and mainland, and a collection of three northeastern Canfor Divisions (TFL 48, Fort St John TSA and Fort Nelson TSA).
Related projects:  FSP_Y081131FSP_Y092131


Year end report (0.3Mb)
Recommendations for monitoring on Canfor’s northeastern Divisions (0.1Mb)
Regional differences in habitat associations (0.1Mb)
Evaluating incidental take on TFL 48 (0.7Mb)
Assigning non-vertebrate species to Species Accounting Groups in Northeastern British Columbia (80Kb)
Non-vertebrates (appendices) (0.7Mb)

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Updated August 16, 2010 

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