Bioindicators: Farming Practices and Sustainability

Authored by: Joji Muramoto , Stephen R. Gliessman

Encyclopedia of Environmental Management

Print publication date:  December  2012
Online publication date:  December  2012

Print ISBN: 9781439829271
eBook ISBN: 9781351235860
Adobe ISBN:


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This entry summarizes the background, definitions, procedures, and current status of developing bioindicators for assessing sustainability of farming practices. Biodiversity in agroecosystems, or “agrobiodiversity,” can serve as a basis for sustainable food production. Biotic parameters have begun to be used as bioindicators during the last decade to evaluate the status of biodiversity, ecosystem functions, and sustainability of agroecosystems. International organizations, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the European Union (EU), encourage the use of bioindicators as evaluative tools to promote agro-environmental policies. Bioindicators have been used commercially to certify “environmentally sound” products. Compared to abiotic indicators, however, the development of bioindicators has multiple challenges. Bioindicators developed in European agroecosystems and Latin American shaded coffee systems are reviewed. To implement biodiversity-based sustainable agriculture policy, participation of both the farmer and the consumer is crucial. An example of such activity from Japan is presented. In conclusion, the development of bioindicators for estimating the sustainability of farming practices is in its early stages but making good progress. Directions for future study include the following: 1) standardization of sampling methods; 2) expansion of databases and improvement of the statistical techniques to minimize potential bias of indicators; 3) improved understanding of the mechanisms linking the status of biodiversity, Earth system processes, human decisions, and ecosystem services impacting human welfare; 4) use of participatory approach in the processes of developing bioindicators; 5) development of multiple sets of bioindicators tailored to different end users (general public, farmers, policy makers, and scientists); and 6) constructing a hierarchical system that integrates different types of bioindicators and other ecological, social, cultural, and economic indicators to evaluate sustainability of farming practices.

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