Conceptual and statistical problems associated with the use of diversity indices in ecology

Barrantes, Gilbert; Sandoval, Luis
September 2009
Revista de Biología Tropical;sep2009, Vol. 57 Issue 3, p451
Academic Journal
Diversity indices, particularly the Shannon-Wiener index, have extensively been used in analyzing patterns of diversity at different geographic and ecological scales. These indices have serious conceptual and statistical problems which make comparisons of species richness or species abundances across communities nearly impossible. There is often no a single statistical method that retains all information needed to answer even a simple question. However, multivariate analyses could be used instead of diversity indices, such as cluster analyses or multiple regressions. More complex multivariate analyses, such as Canonical Correspondence Analysis, provide very valuable information on environmental variables associated to the presence and abundance of the species in a community. In addition, particular hypotheses associated to changes in species richness across localities, or change in abundance of one, or a group of species can be tested using univariate, bivariate, and/or rarefaction statistical tests. The rarefaction method has proved to be robust to standardize all samples to a common size. Even the simplest method as reporting the number of species per taxonomic category possibly provides more information than a diversity index value.


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