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Indicator taxa are commonly used to identify priority areas for conservation or to measure biological responses to environmental change. Despite their widespread use, there is no general consensus about the ability of indicator taxa to predict wider trends in biodiversity. Many studies have focused on large-scale patterns of species co-occurrence to identify areas of high biodiversity, threat or endemism, but there is much less information about patterns of species co-occurrence at local scales. In this study, we assess fine-scale co-occurrence patterns of three indicator taxa (epiphytic ferns, leaf litter frogs and dung beetles) across a remotely sensed gradient of human disturbance in the Ecuadorian Amazon. We measure the relative contribution of rare and common species to patterns of total richness in each taxon and determine the ability of common and rare species to act as surrogate measures of human disturbance and each other. We find that the species richness of indicator taxa changed across the human disturbance gradient but that the response differed among taxa, and between rare and common species. Although we find several patterns of co-occurrence, these patterns differed between common and rare species. Despite showing complex patterns of species co-occurrence, our results suggest that species or taxa can act as reliable indicators of each other but that this relationship must be established and not assumed. © 2012 Oldekop et al.

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