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A scientometric assessment of 30 years of the Index of Biotic Integrity in aquatic ecosystems: Applications and main flaws

Ruaro, Renata, Gubiani, Éder André
Ecological indicators 2013 v.29 pp. 105-110
aquatic ecosystems, databases, fish, fish communities, indicator species, rivers, streams
In 1981, James R. Karr's paper ‘Assessment of biotic integrity using fish communities’ provided the first description of a multimetric procedure to assess the biotic integrity of aquatic ecosystems. To assess the contribution of the Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) and ideas proposed by Karr for the management of aquatic ecosystems, we carried out a scientometric analysis of the papers published from 1981 to 2011 that cited Karr's study. The papers were obtained from Thomson Reuters’ database (ISI Web of Knowledge) in October 2011. We used all papers that cited ‘Karr, 1981’ to assess temporal trends in citations and to identify which journals cited the index most frequently. A total of 93 papers were selected from the two journals that most frequently cited Karr's study, namely Hydrobiologia and Ecological Indicators. For each paper selected, we determined whether the study was empirical, theoretical, or methodological. For empirical papers we assessed the type of environment where the study was carried out, the indicator organisms used, and whether the IBI was applied. To identify which ideas suggested by Karr have been discussed in the literature, we assessed all papers found. In the time frame studied, 734 papers cited ‘Karr, 1981’. The number of citations increased significantly with time. Most papers that cited ‘Karr, 1981’ were empirical, carried out in rivers and streams, and used fish as bioindicators. The main ideas discussed in these studies were related to the creation and use of the IBI, as well as to limitations and difficulties in its application. Our results suggest that the ideas proposed by Karr have contributed to the conservation of aquatic ecosystems. However, criteria for choosing different metrics, as well as the definition of reference conditions, are issues that need to be addressed in order to make the IBI a more robust index.