What is an ecological indicator? Definition and examples

An ecological indicator is an organism that gives us data about an ecosystem, such as its biodiversity. We use ecological indicators to gain information about ecosystems and our impact on those ecosystems. ‘Ecological indicator’ is a collective term for stressor indicators, habitat response, and exposure.

We might use the number of different types of beetle found in a field, for example, as an indicator of biodiversity.

Ecosystems are complex phenomena. It is simpler to describe them with ecological indicators. Subsequently, non-scientists can use the data that ecological indicators provide to make management decisions.

Encyclopedia.com has the following definition of the term:

“Any organism or group of organisms indicative of a particular environment or set of environmental conditions.”

“For example, lichens may be used as indicators of air pollution and fossil assemblages as indicators of past environments.”

Ecological Indicator
An ecological indicator can give us important information about our environment.

Ecological impact and load

Ecological indicators help us determine our ecological impact and ecological load.

Our ecological impact is the effect that human activity has on organisms and their non-living environment.

Our ecological load are the demands and stresses that we place on our ecosystem.

Ecological indicator types

Scientists have developed several different types of indicators. We can use them to reflect different aspects of ecosystems. They may reflect, for example, physical, chemical, and biological aspects.

Subsequently, selecting ecological indicators is a very complex process.

We use indicators because counting everything in an ecosystem would be too time-consuming and expensive.

Let’s suppose the government had just restored a wetland. It wants to find out whether the restoration was successful. Counting every animal, bird, and plant would be extremely expensive. It would also take a very long time.

Therefore, we monitor a few indicator species to determine whether the restoration was a success.

Environmental indicator vs. ecological indicator

The terms environmental indicator and ecological indicator are often used interchangeably. However, they do not have the same meaning.

Ecological indicators are a sub-set of environmental indicators, just like bananas are a sub-set of fruit.

Typically, an environmental indicator gives us data on pressures on the environment, societal responses, and environmental conditions.

An ecological indicator, on the other hand, refers to just ecological processes.

Ecological means related to ecology. Ecology is the study of how organisms interact with one another and also their environment.