Complexity of bioindicator selection for ecological, human, and cultural health: Chinook salmon and red knot as case studies

Burger, J., Gochfeld, M., Niles, L. et al. Environ Monit Assess (2015) 187: 102. doi:10.1007/s10661-014-4233-4
Year Published
Division of Life Sciences, Rutgers University

There is considerable interest in developing bioindicators of ecological health that are also useful indicators for human health. Yet, human health assessment usually encompasses physical/chemical exposures and not cultural well-being. In this paper, we propose that bioindicators can be selected for all three purposes. We use Chinook or king salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and red knot (Calidris canutus rufa, a sandpiper) as examples of indicators that can be used to assess human, ecological, and cultural health. Even so, selecting endpoints or metrics for each indicator species is complex and is explored in this paper. We suggest that there are several endpoint types to examine for a given species, including physical environment, environmental stressors, habitat, life history, demography, population counts, and cultural/societal aspects. Usually cultural endpoints are economic indicators (e.g., number of days fished, number of hunting licenses), rather than the importance of a fishing culture. Development of cultural/societal endpoints must include the perceptions of local communities, cultural groups, and tribal nations, as well as governmental and regulatory communities (although not usually so defined, the latter have cultures as well). Endpoint selection in this category is difficult because the underlying issues need to be identified and used to develop endpoints that tribes and stakeholders themselves see as reasonable surrogates of the qualities they value. We describe several endpoints for salmon and knots that can be used for ecological, human, and cultural/societal health.