Biodiversity surveys

Biodiversity surveys are the most direct way to assess the species diversity of a given area, and data collected with them is priceless. It can help us describe the composition and structure of a landscape, to evaluate conservation priorities,  and to make comparisons and analysis for ecosystem management and diverse disciplines like ecology, biogeography and systematics.

There are three elements to take into account for a good design of a biodiversity survey:

1. The objective of the survey; it must be crystal clear, because determines the methods for the survey, the geographical area to study, and the sampling effort.

When you do a species diversity survey mostly the method is to work  with plots or transects that allow to get information about the characteristic of an area , without the need to study it completely because it will take an eternity, wastes time and money, and it’s not necessary because a good old statistical fact is that a well taken sample is representative of the whole population.

2. You must select which taxonomical groups are appropriate  and ensure the implementation of a standardized methodology of sampling for each one of them.

The use of indicator groups is a key strategy and mostly in tropical areas these area  birds, plants and insects.  They are indicators because they can provide good information about the conservation status of an area and they have different ecological requirements.  Insects are a huge group and the survey efforts are focused on scarab beetles (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae) , ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) and butterflies (Lepidoptera: Hesperioidea, Papilionoidea)

Also they are good indicator groups  because their taxonomy and natural history is well-known, they are highly diversified and can be find in different ecosystems,  and they are abundant, it’s easy to observe them and manipulate them. Imagine using mammals as indicator group,  it would be a nightmare! They are so hard to work with, manipulating them is out of the question and to watch some of them is almost a miracle. For example, there is people who live in areas spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus), but they’ve never seen one.

Plants obviously are the top choice and every biodiversity survey must include plants.  The vegetation is the first thing to mention when describing a landscape, ecosystem or an area. With plants also  it’s possible to extrapolate and use them to tell which other taxonomical groups will inhabit the zone. Off course great care must be taken.

3. There must be an agreement in how to generate, capture and organize information so that it’s easy to use in the analysis.

It’s imperative to standardize how the data will be handled and also it has to be easily accesible and interchangeable. User friendly bioinformatics tools are becoming extremely necessary. The original information will be interpreted accordingly to the researchers objective , but it’s vital to conserve the raw original data, as it can be used for other purposes later on.

Another aspect is that always, always there ought to be some sort of physical evidences.  Plants have to be collected and taken to a herbarium. With birds you can record their songs and prepare their skins and  insects are easy to preserve. The objective is to guarantee the availability for long term of these collections (decades and even centuries)

So as you can see a biodiversity survey not only includes field work but a lot of planning to ensure it’s worth it. A good survey, when executed properly,  is the first tool to use in a biodiversity assessment.


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