Spineless Stories of Mass Extinction

By Dave Armstrong - 01 Sep 2012 19:20:33 GMT
Spineless Stories of Mass Extinction

Holthius's anemone shrimp (Ancylomenes holtuisi) - Credit: © Barbara Moll

The Zoological Society of London (ZSL), along with the IUCN Red List and Wildscreen, has reported on the insects and less numerous invertebrates in a large but friendly tome. Of all of the invertebrate groups, 20% are threatened with extinction, possibly because of lack of conservation and relevant studies.

We may have thought that marine invertebrates like the two species below would be most at risk. In fact, freshwater animals are most threatened but the problem seems universal. All global, regional and national assessments provide status information similar to the most threatened plants and vertebrates. The value of invertebrates is not lost on scientists as they assess coral reef degradation to produce fisheries losses of $100, million. A similar calculation is the value of pollinators (insect) to the US economy at more than $1 billion per annum.

While many people have commented that butterflies are more at risk than big cats, the situation is quite different. Many insects are becoming extinct every day, pretty butterflies, and their moth relatives, included. The cats' habitats are disappearing in similar ways, but only one species-the snow leopard could disappear tomorrow. It's more productive to look at molluscs or another lesser known phylum. An oyster is quoted by RZS to filter 124 litres of water every day. This "free filtration service" is a key to the coastal niche these animals form for others.

Lose that key and the lock will be useless for all those organisms, including our fishermen! The terrestrial molluscs in particular are high on critical lists (partly because, in Europe for example, there are three times as many species as the butterflies and form integral parts of woodland and grassland communities.)

Imperial shrimp and nudibranch mollusc helping each other out

Easy rider! Imperial shrimp and nudibranch mollusc helping each other out; Credit: © Christopher J. Crowley

We are losing species regularly and some must be presented as the useful, interesting and delightful animals that they are. Sea slugs are so beautiful that the public readily absorb their colourful attractions. We need some molluscan stars from other areas to entertain the public eye and thereby achieve that small chance of survival we can offer them. The report suggest "insect cheetahs" or "worm rhinos." Well I suggest flower mantids and the intricately-beautiful and virtually unknown polychaetes to fill those shoes, but there are so many others...

And at governmental and international levels? The report lists in detail the three dilemmas they believe need to be faced: the public, the political and the scientific. All come down to political action, whether forced or consensual. The earth (ie. we) need these myriad legs and wings. We have to have them. Without them we are sunk. The spineless invertebrates cannot work or even think, in some cases for themselves.

It's up or down to us. If we assume a proper guardianship, these delights will be ours and for our descendants. If it's a thumbs down, global warming will be as nothing compared to the loss of our natural ecosystems. South Africa, some UK and US butterfly successes, the Seychelles and in New Zealand, the wetta conservation techniques have spoken loudly for success in invertebrate recoveries. These news items need to be exposed as the significant moves they really are in this chess game of life on the earth board.. It is not down to the invertebrates alone, this is the vital game that involves every individual.

You can read the the full ZSL report here: Spineless - Status and Trends of the World's Invertebrates. (via the two PDF links)

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Topics: Endangered Species