Adult Odonata conservatism as an indicator of freshwater wetland condition

Thomas E. Kutcher, Jason T. Bried

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is a growing need to identify effective and efficient biological indicators for wetland assessment, and adult damselflies and dragonflies (Insecta: Odonata) possess several attributes that make them attractive for this application. We introduce a general indicator of freshwater wetland condition based on objectively estimated adult Odonata species conservatism, or sensitivity to human disturbances. We used an extensive opportunistic survey dataset from Rhode Island (USA) to empirically assign a coefficient of conservatism (CoC) to each of 135 Odonata species, based on their exclusivity to categories of degradation among 510 wetlands; the mean CoC of species observed in the adult stage was applied as an index of wetland integrity. An independent sample of 51 wetlands was also drawn from the opportunistic survey to test the performance of the index relative to human disturbance, as measured by multimetric rapid assessment and surrounding impervious surface area. The index was well predicted by both disturbance measures and showed no evidence of dependence on sampling effort, wetland size, or geomorphic class. Our findings suggest that conservatism of adult Odonata averaged across species may provide a robust indicator of freshwater wetland condition. And because adult Odonata are generally easy to identify, especially relative to larval Odonata, the index could be particularly useful for wetland assessment. Our straightforward empirical approach to CoC estimation could be applied to other existing spatially referenced Odonata datasets or to other species assemblages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-39
Number of pages9
JournalEcological Indicators
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Biological indicator
  • Damselfly
  • Dragonfly
  • Rapid assessment
  • Rhode Island
  • Wetland assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Decision Sciences(all)
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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