7 Characteristics of bioindicators

Bioindicators are organisms that reveal the conditions of an environment, thanks to their tolerance range to certain parameters. The types according to the quality of the abiotic factor to study are water bioindicators, air bioindicators and soil bioindicators.

Examples of bioindicators are waterfowl in wetlands and lichens for environmental pollution. Its importance lies in the fact that they serve to create strategies aimed at reducing environmental degradation.

Laboratory analyses to know the contamination of ecosystems are indispensable to be able to determine the state of an area and above all to propose solutions to solve mismatches. Although they are important, today they are complemented by another technique that uses living beings on the site, which they are known as bioindicators.

Here the principle of the particular limits that certain organisms have before different changes is used. To learn more about it, we invite you to read this article where you will learn what bioindicators are, their types, examples and importance.

What bioindicators are

Bioindicators are living organisms that develop within specific parameters and variables, which serve to know the state of an area or to determine the quality of some resource. These characteristics are variables that can be modified, in the face of which the bioindicator will behave differently, and this is what will be interpreted to determine the conditions of the space. This difference in behaviour should be considered to include even the disappearance of the body.

They are usually used to analyze levels of disturbance and environmental quality. Bioindicators also serve to know the effects of physicochemical variation on living organisms, and the risks that may exist due to the presence of non-optimal conditions.

In addition to analyzing how the bioindicator behaves in the face of variations, it is also possible to quantify the number of pollutants they have managed to incorporate within them. In this type of use they are called biomonitors. They differ from bioindicators because these are qualitative analysis, while biomonitor is used to obtain quantitative information.

The information a bioindicator can reveal can be:

  • It’s functional.

And it can be obtained by observing:

  • Changes in behavior.
  • Modifications on metabolic routes.
  • Number of compounds accumulated within themselves.
  • Changes in population dynamics.
  • Morphological or physiological changes.

Characteristics of bioindicators

Bioindicators are organisms or species that provide information about the quality and health of an ecosystem. They can indicate the presence or absence of pollutants, changes in environmental conditions, or the overall ecological balance of an area. Here are some key characteristics of bioindicators:

  1. Sensitivity: Bioindicators are often sensitive to environmental changes or stressors. They can exhibit observable responses or physiological changes when exposed to specific pollutants or alterations in their habitat. For example, certain species of fish may show deformities or changes in reproductive behavior when exposed to water pollution.
  2. Specificity: Different bioindicators are specific to different types of pollutants or environmental conditions. Some organisms may be more sensitive to heavy metals, while others may respond to changes in water pH or temperature. The specificity of bioindicators allows scientists to identify and monitor specific environmental issues.
  3. Abundance and Distribution: Bioindicators should be relatively abundant and distributed throughout an ecosystem. This ensures that they can be easily sampled and monitored, providing reliable information about the overall health of the ecosystem. Common examples of bioindicators include lichens, certain insect species, and amphibians.
  4. Longevity: Bioindicators should have a relatively long lifespan or be able to accumulate pollutants over time. This allows for the detection and monitoring of long-term environmental changes. For instance, tree rings can serve as bioindicators of past climate conditions and can provide information about climate change over many years.
  5. Indicators of Ecological Processes: Bioindicators not only provide information about pollution levels but also about the functioning and balance of an ecosystem. For example, the presence of certain species of algae in a body of water can indicate nutrient enrichment or eutrophication, which affects the overall biodiversity and productivity of the ecosystem.
  6. Standardization: To ensure consistency and comparability of data, bioindicators should be selected based on standardized protocols and criteria. This allows for accurate monitoring and assessment of environmental changes over time. Standardization includes factors such as sampling methods, data collection procedures, and data interpretation.
  7. Integration with Other Data: Bioindicators are often used in combination with other environmental monitoring techniques and data sources. By integrating bioindicator data with physical and chemical measurements, scientists can gain a comprehensive understanding of the environmental conditions and potential impacts.

In summary, bioindicators are organisms or species that provide information about the health and quality of an ecosystem. They are sensitive and specific to certain pollutants or environmental changes, relatively abundant and distributed, have a long lifespan, and provide insights into ecological processes. Standardization and integration with other data sources are important for accurate monitoring and assessment.

Types of bioindicators

Bioindicators can measure a variety of abiotic factors and their quality. Here’s how we have:

  • Water bioindicators: they are aquatic organisms or that some of their phases are carried out in this environment.
  • Air bioindicators: they are organisms that depend on the atmosphere, such as plants or lichens.
  • Soil bioindicators: they are terrestrial organisms.

They can also be classified according to the biological group to which they belong, these being:

  • Macroinvertebrates, which are insects, crustaceans, molluscs, antheids, polyclicks and nematodes.
  • Macrofitas, which are aquatic plants.
  • Bioindicator animals.

Examples of bioindicators

Migratory birds are great bioindicators because they are easily observed and quantified. In addition, their presence indicates a healthy abundance of other parallel groups such as amphibians and insects, due to their location in the trophic chain. It is very easy to realize that when a wetland dries, migratory birds that would normally reach that area no longer do. This is one of the first signs of the detriment that is about to unfold.

Bioindicating icings

Lichens are an epiphytic association of fungi with algae that need air to develop, rather than soil. They lack structures that limit the passage of gases, so all dissolved substances in the atmosphere are retained within them. That is why they are extremely sensitive to air pollution. When it goes up slightly, it will be seen that the lichens begin to decay. A record of abundance and modification in appearance, among other parameters, is kept to be used as bioindicators.


Amphibians, such as frogs or salamanders, have extremely permeable skin, so any toxic that is dissolved in the water or in the soil will be absorbed by them. This causes them changes in morphology as deformations from early stages in the life cycle. Thus, the observation in changes in frogs, toads and other amphibians has served to determine the deterioration of lake bodies.

Importance of bioindicators

Bioindicators are very useful to know the state of conservation of a space. It is often difficult to carry out tests in a lab, but bioindicators serve as a much cheaper alternative because it is only necessary to track how the indicator behaves.

Bioindicators are very easy to use because they express the characteristic state of an environment, reducing the difficulty of replicating in the laboratory the exact conditions of the area to investigate and without having to take too many samples. Since ecosystems are very complex, using an on-site indicator instead of several samples makes the process quite easier.

Finally, bioindicators are tools used in several countries to determine the impact that ecosystem conditions may have on health and human economy, based on what public policies should be created. They are currently used as part of sustainable development strategies. Faced with what a bioindicator determines, space improvement strategies can be conducted to remedy and improve the quality of the ecosystem in question.

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