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Review article - Peer-reviewed, 2015

Reviewing the strength of evidence of biodiversity indicators for forest ecosystems in Europe

Gao, Tian; Busse Nielsen, Anders; Hedblom, Marcus


With a growing number of forest biodiversity indicators being applied in forest policy documents and even more being suggested by the scientific community, there is a need to evaluate, review and critically assess the strength of evidence for individual indicators, their interrelationships and potential overlaps and gaps. Biodiversity indicators proposed for forest ecosystems in Europe were reviewed with the over-arching aim of providing advice on strategic selection and combination of indictors. The objectives were to (1) establish interrelationships between indicators and their indicandum (i.e. the indicated aspect of biodiversity); (2) assess the strength of scientific evidence for individual indicators; and (3) identify a set of indicators with confirmed validity for further scientific testing and inclusion in long-term reporting and decision-making regarding forest biodiversity. Ten indicator groups and 83 individual indicators were identified with application from stand scale up to landscape scale in 142 eligible scientific papers. In 62 of the 142 studies no statistical correlations between indicator(s) and indicandum were performed and 42 (out of the 62) did not even present a clear indicandum. In the remaining 80 studies, 412 correlations between indicator and indicandum were identified. However, only six correlations were assessed as being supported by strong evidence, i.e. three or more studies found statistical correlation between the indicator and indicandum, and no studies reported contradictory results. For the species richness relationships, there was strong evidence for positive correlations between deadwood volume and wood-living fungal species richness; deadwood volume and saproxylic beetle species richness; deadwood diversity and saproxylic beetle species richness; age of canopy trees and epiphytic lichen species richness. There was strong evidence for a negative correlation between tree canopy cover and spider species richness. Concerning species composition-related correlation, there was strong evidence that the species composition of epiphytic lichens changed with the age of canopy trees. These results imply that the validity of most indicators on which monitoring and conservation planning are based are weakly scientifically supported and that further validation of current biodiversity indicators for forest ecosystems is needed. (C) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Compositional indicator; Dead wood; Forest policy; Species richness; Structural indicator; Surrogate

Published in

Ecological Indicators
2015, Volume: 57, pages: 420-434