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J Environ Monit. 2010 May;12(5):1013-28. doi: 10.1039/b920937a. Epub 2010 Apr 9.

Biotic indices for assessing the status of coastal waters: a review of strengths and weaknesses.

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Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Blanes, C/Acceso a la Cala St Francesc 14, 17300, Blanes, Girona, Spain.


Biotic indices have become key assessment tools in most recent national and trans-national policies aimed at improving the quality of coastal waters and the integrity of their associated ecosystems. In this study we analyzed 90 published biotic indices, classified them into four types, and analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of each type in relation to the requirements of these policies. We identified three main type-specific weaknesses. First, the problems of applicability, due to practical and conceptual difficulties, which affect most indices related to ecosystem function. Second, the failure of many indices based on structural attributes of the community (e.g. taxonomic composition) to link deterioration with causative stressors, or to provide an early-detection capacity. Third, the poor relevance to the ecological integrity of indices based on attributes at the sub-individual level (e.g. multi-biomarkers). Additionally, most indices still fail on two further aspects: the broad-scale applicability and the definition of reference conditions. Nowadays, the most promising approach seems to be the aggregation of indices with complementary strengths, and obtained from different biological communities.

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