Choice of metrics for studying arthropod responses to habitat disturbance: one example from Gabon


Yves Basset, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado 0843-03092, Balboa, Ancon, Panama City, Republic of Panama. E-mail:



  • 1The choice of metrics comparing pristine and disturbed habitats may not be straightforward. We examined the results of a study in Gabon including 21 arthropod focal taxa representing 16 855 individuals separated into 1534 morphospecies. Replication included the understorey of 12 sites representing four stages of land use after logging (old and young forests, savanna and gardens), surveyed for 1 year using three sampling methods.
  • 2For all focal taxa, we calculated a suite of 13 metrics accounting for the intensity of faunal changes between habitats, namely: abundance; observed, rarefied and estimated species richness; proportion of rare species; additive diversity partitioning; evenness of assemblages; higher taxonomic composition; species turnover; ordination scores of multivariate analyses; nestedness; proportion of site-specific species and ratios of functional guilds.
  • 3Most metrics showed large differences between forests and non-forest habitats, but were not equally discriminating for particular taxa. Despite higher taxonomic groups being present in most habitats, many insect species were site or habitat specific. There was little evidence that the disturbance gradient represented a series of impoverished habitats derived from older forests. Rather, entire suites of species were being replaced as habitats were modified.
  • 4Metrics based on species identity had a high sensitivity to disturbance, whereas measurements describing community structure were less discriminating in this regard. We recommend using metrics based on abundance, estimated species richness, species turnover estimated by multivariate analyses and guild structure, to avoid misleading interpretations that may result from comparisons of species richness alone.