- Bangladesh diaries: tales of a trainee tiger conservationist
- Introducing the Tiger Team
- The big picture of tiger conservation
- Visiting my Chagossian heritage – Yannick Mandarin
- Egypt Expedition – Meet the team
- The new Principles and Criteria are approved, but challenges remain
- There’s no right way to eat a rhesus
- The RSPO endorses the ZSL High Conservation Value Monitoring System
- Work with hunters on Easter Sunday but no bunnies
- Andrea: I think the statement "hunters with metal ammuniti...
- Elsa Lamb: WOW! what an adventure. So sad to see the original...
- Elsa Lamb: What wonderful work you do, I'm so proud of you Ta...
- Marcus Felson: A new center on wildlife crime. A new Symposium t...
- Marcus Felson: Increasingly criminologists are looking at wildlif...
The Little Things That Run the World
Posted on September 5, 2012
When people hear the word ‘invertebrates’ their first reaction can be anything from: “I love them!” to: “huh – what’s that?” and most commonly: “insects: arghhhhh!!” It’s understandable that most people think of wasps, jellyfish or mosquitoes as “foe” and not “friend” but there’s a lot more to invertebrates than just an inconvenience at a picnic or at the beach.
We shouldn’t really fear our spineless cohabitants; the invertebrate world is so amazingly diverse and colourful, full of the strangest and most important creatures that we can so easily be unaware of due to their size. Invertebrates make up the majority of known species on earth, they are quite literally everywhere: 80% of the world’s known species are in fact invertebrates! So why are these spineless creatures important to us?
Invertebrates are one of the essential foundations to a healthy ecosystem; not only as the basis of numerous food chains across terrestrial, marine and freshwater environments but also providing ecosystem, provisioning, and regulatory services. A single pipistrelle bat will consume over 3,000 small insects every night! And our old friend the honeybee provides us with a delicious by-product through its invaluable services as a pollinator. Overall, a staggering 80% of plants rely on insects for pollination.
They may be the most diverse and numerous species group on this planet, but what threatens their survival isn’t always fully understood, as they are poorly studied and some are difficult to identify. Take the marine cone snails, for example: currently all species are undergoing Red List assessment, which means their risk of extinction is being assessed. Pollution and coastal development as well as dredging are likely threats to these species which are particularly range restricted. Sadly the degradation of habitat by tourism developments has already made three species from Cape Verde (Conus lugubris, C. mordeirae and C. salreiensis) Critically Endangered due to their restricted range. What is astounding is that venom from some species of cone snail shows great promise in treating chronic pain and preventing strokes in humans so these really are species that we cannot afford to lose.
On the land the level of threat to invertebrate survival is also high due to our continuing destruction of their habitats. Butterflies, which are admired by so many are finding the situation difficult. In the US and Canada, a survey showed that many species which were thought to be common and wide-ranging are now declining, for example the western population of the monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, which has declined by 80% since 1997! The return of millions of monarch butterflies to their overwintering grounds in Mexico has become a major tourist attraction and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This demonstrates how important this natural spectacle is to humanity, both culturally and economically, and highlights to us why our distinct, fascinating and beautiful natural world should be preserved.
Freshwater invertebrates suffer the greatest risk to their survival out of all the invertebrates with 34% of all assessed freshwater species being threatened. The freshwater ecosystem on which they rely has been heavily exploited by humans through damming and water extraction, and pollution has not helped the situation either. This is very bad for us humans because these freshwater friends provide us with valuable services like water filtration and food provision. With eighty percent of the world’s population being exposed to high levels of threat to water security, it would be impudent to think that we can afford the loss of natural provisioning services such as these. It has been estimated that in the UK, our freshwater invertebrates on inland wetlands contribute £1 billion a year in ecosystem services. Invertebrates save us money!
Spineless highlights how cool these little (and some not so little!) fellows really are. From giant squid to micromolluscs, these spineless creatures which are so often over-looked are not only vital to our survival and well-being, they are also fascinating and worth learning more about in their own right. Take a look at the Spineless Report below and prepare to be impressed by our under-growth under-dogs!