The selection, testing and application of terrestrial insects as bioindicators

Melodie A. McGeoch

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

507 Citations (Scopus)


Although the uses and merits of terrestrial insects as indicators have been extensively discussed, there is a lack of clear definition, goal directedness and hypothesis testing in studies in the field. In an attempt to redress some of these issues and outline an approach for further studies, three categories of terrestrial insect indicators, corresponding to differences in their application, are proposed, i.e. environmental, ecological and biodiversity indicators. The procedures in terrestrial insect bioindicator studies should start with a clear definition of the study objectives and proposed use of the bioindicator, as well as with a consideration of the scale at which the study is to be carried out. Bioindication studies are conducted at a variety of spatial and temporal scales within the contest of earth-system processes, but the objectives of the study will largely determine the scale at which it would be optimally conducted. There is a tendency for studies to be conducted below their space-time scaling functions, giving them apparent predictability. The selection of potential indicator taxa or groups is then based on a priori suitability criteria, the identification of predictive relationships between the indicator and environmental variables and, most importantly, the development and testing of hypotheses according to the correlative patterns found. Finally, recommendations for the use of the indicator in monitoring should be made. Although advocating rigorous, long-term protocols to identify indicators may presently be questionable in the face of the urgency with which conservation decisions have to be made, this approach is critical if bioindicators are to be used with any measurable degree of confidence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-201
Number of pages21
Journal Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Biodiversity indicators
  • Bioindicators
  • Ecological indicators
  • Environmental indicators
  • Monitoring
  • Terrestrial insects

Cite this