Invertebrate morphospecies as surrogates for species: a case study

Ian Oliver*, Andrew J. Beattie

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    515 Citations (Scopus)


    Environmental monitoring and conservation evaluation in terrestrial habitats may be enhanced by the use of invertebrate inventories, but taxonomic and logistic constraints frequently encountered during conventional taxonomic treatment have greatly restricted their use. To overcome this problem we suggest that nonspecialists may be used to classify invertebrates to morphospecies without compromising scientific accuracy. To test this proposition, large pitfall and litter samples of ants, beetles, and spiders from four forest types were sorted to morphospecies by a nonspecialist and to species by specialists. These data were used to generate morphospecies and species inventories and to estimate richness (α diversity) and turnover (β diversity), information frequently used in the above activities. Our results show that the estimates of richness of ants and spiders varied little between morphospecies and species inventories. Differences between estimates of beetle richness were largely influenced by errors of identification in two families, Curculionidae and Staphylinidae. But morphospecies and species inventories yielded identical ranking of forest type using richness. Turnover was assessed by sample ordination, which revealed similar clusters regardless of the type of inventory. Analysis of similarities of assemblages of ants and beetles showed significant differences between all forest types. Spider assemblages showed a lower level of discrimination. The assessment of turnover was consistent among inventories but different between the major taxa. Our findings suggest that morphospecies may be used as surrogates for species in some environmental monitoring and conservation, in particular when decisions are guided by estimates of richness and the assessment of turnover.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)99-109
    Number of pages11
    JournalConservation Biology
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 1996


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