Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Zinta Amanda Zommers, ASHA MUTENYO Sitati and Mushfig Habilov, United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi, Kenya
Bioindicators are biological processes, species or communities, which are used to assess changes in the environment or environmental quality. Theoretically, they could also be used to provide advanced warning of hazards. They are inexpensive, locally relevant, and can encourage stakeholder participation in early warning system development and maintenance. While bioindicators have been identified for environmental problems such as air pollution and water pollution, and have been used to assess health of ecosystems, little information is available on bioindicators for climate related hazards. This presentation reviews possible biodindicators for droughts, wildfires and tropical cyclones, based on the results of a literature review. It will also present results from a household survey of 36 communities in Kenya, Ghana and Burkina Faso. Indigenous knowledge offers a wealth of potential bioindicators; including animal and insect behavior, and plant phenology. Yet significant study is needed to verify these indicators and evaluate them against criteria such as specificity, variability, monotonicity, practicality and relevance. Bioindicators may not be specific to individual hazards and may provide limited advanced warning, as response often occurs after the actual onset of the hazard. Furthermore, indicators may become increasingly unreliable due to climate change itself. There is a need for a large-scale assessment of hazard bioindicators, which should also include forecasts of bioindicator change under global warming, and a cost-benefit analysis of the value of integrating bioindicators into early warning systems. Lessons can be drawn from ethnopharmacology. Coordinated research on this topic could contribute to the resilience of both ecosystems and human livelihoods.