Indicator Species

On the Trail with Museum Scientist, Michael W. Nickell

Published May 10th 2017 in Wildlife


An indicator species is any biological species that defines a trait or characteristic of the environment. An indicator species may delineate an ecoregion, or indicate environmental conditions, or illustrate changes in climate.

Lechuguilla (Agave lechuguilla, Family Asparagaceae) is an indicator species of the Chihuahuan Desert and typically grows in open arid calcareous rocky slopes. After several years of growth as a widely suckering rosette, it flowers once in a tall scapose inflorescence and then dies. The flowers provide nutrients for insects, bats, and birds. The stout leaves are tough with very sharp, hard points for defense. Native Americans used the leaf fibers for sewing. Water stored in the flowering stalks are rich in salts and minerals. Lechuguilla is a major part of the diet of javelinas, but is toxic to cattle and sheep.