Wildlife Damage Management, Internet Center for


Date of this Version



Reprinted from BIOLOGICAL PROBLEMS IN WATER POLLUTION, ed. C. M. Tarzwell (Cincinnati, OH: US Public Health Svc, 1957).


A number of investigators have very recently published discussions having to do with biological indices and biological measures of water pollution (1) (2) (7) (13) (14) (15) (16) (26) (27) (28) (29) (30) (36) (38). Fjerdingstad (12) has discussed some of the pertinent European literature. The fundamental concepts presented by these authors are not original, for the idea that aquatic organisms can be useful "indicators" of environmental conditions, and particularly of the degree of pollution of water with organic wastes, has a long history (12). Because of certain novel features and the relatively wide scope of the studies, and the broad implications of some of the conclusions, the work of Patrick (26) (27) (28) (29) (30) has attracted much attention in the United States and seems to deserve the closest scrutiny.

Although much has been written about the various biological indices, there has been no general agreement among the authors as to the meaning of some of the most important terms used in this literature and little effort to clarify the terminology. In view of the variety of backgrounds and dominant interests of individuals concerned with waste disposal and with the effects of wastes on receiving streams, it is not surprising that the term "pollution" does not have exactly the same meaning for all. It is regrettable that a variety of meanings have come to be associated with technical terms such as "biological indicator of pollution". Some of the differences of opinion as to what the biological indices are and what may be their utility doubtless stem from a lack of agreement on the meaning of the word "pollution", Investigators proposing the use of different indicators of pollution should have clarified, it would seem, their ideas as to just what constitutes pollution, or, in other words, exactly what it is that the indicators can be expected to indicate. Too often this has not been done, or the ideas and definitions presented have not been carefully developed and appear to be unsound from a practical standpoint.