BIOINDICATORS SPECIES AND THEIR USES
DEPT . OF ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE
• Bioindicators are the organism that indicate or
monitor the health of the environment .
• A good bioindicator will indicate the presence of
the pollutant and also attempt to provide
additional information about the amount and
intensity of the exposure.
HOW ARE THEY USED ?
• Different bioindicators are sensitive to
different types of changes.
• Scientists observe changes in the populations
of animal and plants bioindicators to see if an
environment is healthy .
• Biological response of bioindicator reveals
the presence of the pollutants by the
occurrence of typical symptoms or
measurable responses, and is therefore
more qualitative .
1) BASED ON THE AIM OF INDICATORS
• COMPLIANCE INDICATORS – For e.g. fish population
attributes are measured at the population, community or
ecosystem levels and are focussed on issues such as the
sustainability of population.
• DIAGNOSTIC INDICATORS – They are used to measure on the
individual or sub organism (biomarker)
• EARLY WARNING INDICATORS – They focuses on rapid and
sensitive response to environmental changes.
• ACCUMULATION INDICATORS – They are distinguished for
toxic effects bioindicator, with the effects being studied on
different biological organisation level e.g. lichens , mussels
2) BASED ON THE APPLICATIONS OF INDICATORS
• ENVIRONMENTAL INDICATORS – This is a species or group of
species responding predictably to environmental disturbances
or change (e.g. sentinels, detector, exploiters, accumulators,
bioassay organisms). An environmental indicators system is
an act set of indicators aiming at diagnosing the state of the
environment for environmental policy making.
• ECOLOGICAL INDICATORS – This is a species that is known to
be sensitive to pollution, habitat fragmentation or other
stresses. The response of the indicator is representative for
• BIODIVERSITY INDICATORS –indicator for species richness of
a community. However, the definition has been broadened to
measurable parameter of biodiversity including e.g species
richness, endemism, genetic parameter, population-specific
parameter and landscape parameter
BASED ON IUBS BIOINDICATORS ARE
GROUPED INTO :
•Cell biology and genetics system
• Microorganisms are
diverse group of
organisms found in large
quantities and are easier
to detect and sample.
• The presence of some
microorganisms is well
correlated with particular
type of pollution and it
serves as standard
indicator of pollution.
Some bio indicators indicating status
of aquatic systems
Micro organism/bacteria Status
• Bioluminescent bacteria: These are
used to test water for
• If there are toxins present in the
water, the cellular metabolism of
bacteria is inhibited or disrupted
• This affects quality or amount of
light emitted by bacteria
• It is very quick method and takes
just 30 minutes to complete but
could not identify the toxin Vibrio fischeri
• The presence or absence of certain plant or other
vegetative life in an ecosystem can provide important
clues about the health of the environment. They can be
from both higher and lower classes of Plantae
• Lower plants :Different plants indicate the nature of
environment. The susceptibility of resistance towards a
substance in the environment varies with species. For
• Higher plants :Various groups of higher plants serve as
bioindicators. Sensitive species are employed to detect
and monitor specific air pollutants. Studies on higher
plants are more specified on its ability to indicate the
heavy metal pollution in water.
• Lichens are alga and
fungi living symbiotically
(they have to live together
to survive) Lichens can
live in extreme conditions,
but they hate pollution
The cleaner the air the
bigger and more
elaborate the lichen. So
by looking at the lichens
growing in a certain area
you can tell how bad the
air pollution is
• Changes in Diatom
community , decrease
in plankton algae and
water acidity .
Specific changes in
aquatic flora can
indicate the pH of the
fresh water correctly
• The chlortic flakes of pine
needle are good examples of
ozone damages. The collapse,
glazing and bronzing of leaf
cells are products of damage
by peroxyacetyl nitrate (PAN).
• Caesalpinia pulcherrima and
grass (Cyndon dactylon) was
evaluated as the bioindicators
of heavy metals such as the
Lead (Pb), Copper (Cu),
Cadmium (Cd), Manganese
(Mn), Zinc (Zn), Chromium (Cr)
and Nickel (Ni)
• Abundance of Eichhornia
indicates sewage and
heavy metal pollution of
• Equisetum spp. Indicate
the presence of gold in the
• Annual weeds and short
lived perennials like
Polygonum etc. grow
better in overgrazed areas.
They are the indicators of
• An increase or decrease in an animal population may
indicate damage to ecosystem caused by pollution.
• In addition to monitoring the size and number of certain
species, other mechanisms of animal indication include
monitoring the concentration of toxins in animal tissues,
or monitoring the rate at which deformities arise in
• Earthworm density and
biomass are strongly
influence by contamination.
Therefore the earth worm is
used as bioindicator to
determine acute toxicity.
• Frogs are considered
accurate indicators of
environmental stress and the
health of biosphere as a
• Fish is a good indicator of
water pollution .
• Macro invertebrates are often
used as bioindiacators
because they are very
sensitive to pollution, excess
nutrients, increased turbidity,
CELL BIOLOGY, GENETICS
• Cellular and sub-cellular components, including
chromosomes, adapted to specific environmental
conditions, form an excellent parameter for bioindicator.
• Many animals show behavioural responses following the
detection of environmental changes in the functioning of
endocrine, nervous, muscular, cardiovascular and
• Such changes may be investigated at morphological,
biochemical or physiological levels and can indicate the
presence of toxic substances
Criteria for selecting
• Sensitivity – dose responsiveness to
specific stressors .
• Specificity – responds to specific stressors
• Broad Applicability – over temporal and
spatial scale .
• Representativeness – role as surrogate for
other responses .
• Cost – reasonable for available resources
and scope of study .
Bioindicator and biomonitoring
• Bioindicators qualitatively assesses biotic responses to
environmental stress (e.g., presence of the lichen, indicates
poor air quality) while biomonitors quantitatively determine a
response (e.g., reductions in lichen chlorophyll content or
diversity indicates the presence and severity of air pollution)
• Chemical measurement of pollutant area is like snapshot of
that that area while biological measurement is like taking
• Bioindicators actually indicate the general toxicity of the
environment , without telling the exact quantity of the
Why Are Bioindicators Better
Than Traditional Methods?
• Scientists have traditionally conducted chemical assays and
directly measured physical parameters of the environment (e.g.,
ambient temperature, salinity, nutrients, pollutants, available
light and gas levels), whereas the use of bioindicators uses the
biota to assess the cumulative impacts of both chemical
pollutants and habitat alterations over time.
• Bioindicators have the ability to indicate indirect biotic effects
of pollutants when many physical or chemical measurements
• Through bioindicators scientists need to observe only the single
indicating species to check on the environment , they don’t have
to monitor whole community.
Roadside Plants as Bio-indicators of Urban Air
A.P Deepalakshmi et.al
• Case study describes about air pollution tolerance
among roadside plants exposed to varying degrees of
• Evaluation of air pollution tolerance index (APTI) of 10
selected wild plant species was carried out to assess
their response to ambient levels of air pollutants along
the busy roadways of Bangalore.
• Four parameters namely total chlorophyll, ascorbic acid,
pH of leaf extract and relative water content were
determined and computed together to signify air pollution
tolerance index (APTI) of plants.
Fresh leaf samples of these plants were collected and
analysed for the following parameters:-
• Total chlorophyll :- It was determined by applying
TCh = 20.2(A645)+8.02(A663)xV/(1000x W
• Ascorbic acid :- It was determined by formula
AA = IxSxD/Ax1/W
• Relative Water Content :- it was determined by formula
RWC = (F–D/T-D)x100
• pH of the leaf samples :- pH was determined after
calibrating pH meter using buffer solution
• APTI :- APTI = AA(TCh+pH)+RWC/10.
• The observed significant reduction in total chlorophyll,
ascorbic acid and relative water content showed inverse
relationship with traffic density.
• Similarly, pH of leaf extract followed an exponential
decrease with increase in traffic density and drifted
towards acidic range.
• Comparison of APTI values from control to polluted sites
revealed maximum reduction in Bougainvillea spectabilis
while least change was noted in Peltophorum
• While Peltophorum pterocarpum and Portulaca oleraceae
are tolerant species since they have shown least per cent
reduction in APTI
• Among the plants studied maximum net per cent reduction of
APTI over control was seen in Bougainvillea spectabilis and
Ageratum conyzoides and are considered to be sensitive
CASE STUDY -CONCLUSION
• Air pollution has been considered as a potential
selection force for plants, therefore the species
growing in such adverse roadside environment
present the best material to ascertain the levels
of susceptibility rather than drawing
interpretations from measurements obtained
from lab conditions.
• APTI determination provides a reliable method
for screening large number of plants with
respect to their response to air pollutants
• Bioindicator have a remarkable potential in
forecasting of disasters, prevention of pollution,
exploration and conservation of natural
resources, all aiming at a sustainable
development with minimum destruction of the
• Bioindicator can be applied in predicting the
impact of anthropogenic activities particularly
pollutants and predicting environmental change
in a timely manner.
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