| STORY BY MEGHAN MCMAHON |
It’s not just a cliché to say all living things are special. Every living thing has a role to play in the ecosystem, and removing even seemingly the most inconsequential species from a habitat can have devastating and far-reaching effects up and down the food chain.
Within ecosystems, though, reside some plants and animals that have an added significance because of what they can tell us about the overall health of the ecosystem. These species are known as indicator species, and they are used to monitor the health of the ecosystems and guide scientists, including those at the Forest Preserve District, as they formulate land management plans and evaluate the health of various habitats.
Indicator species are typically among the first species affected by any change in their ecosystem, National Geographic reports. A positive change may yield a population increase, while a negative change may cause a population decrease.
Because indicator species are so sensitive to environmental changes, scientists study and monitor them to identify possible changes in an ecosystem caused by pollution, climate change, changes in land use and other factors, according to National Geographic. Identifying and keeping a close eye on these indicator species allows for the entire ecosystem to be more easily monitored.
Both plants and animals can be indicator species, but animals are most often identified as indicator species, according to Treehugger. Among animals that are indicators, about 70% are invertebrates. One reason for this is because these creatures are much less mobile than other animals and cannot as easily migrate to a healthier ecosystem.