As climates change due to human and natural factors, we rarely give thought to the insects, arachnids and other invertebrates that are both necessary to human agricultural industry, and to the stability of the ecology.
According to Endangered Invertebrates: the case for greater attention to invertebrate conservation by Scott Black, Matthew Shepard, and Melody Allen of the Xerces Society (www.xerces.org), the US Endangered Species Act and international endangered species laws do little to protect the invertebrates.
They report that currently, only 37% of U.S. animal species listed as endangered are invertebrates and only 1% of listed foreign endangered species are invertebrates.
This is particularly troubling considering, as the Xerces Society did, that a 20% extinction of total global diversity is possible by 2022 if the present rate of environmental destruction continues—and that this pressure is concentrated among the invertebrates: freshwater bivalves, for instance, are among the most endangered groups of organisms in North America.
Great Urgency to Protect Invertebrates
In the United States, freshwater mollusk fauna, especially rich in mussels and gillbreathing snails, is the largest in the world and the most well studied. The species have been steeply declining in numbers from the damming of rivers, pollution, and introduction of alien mollusks and other aquatic animals. In 1995, it was observed that just under half of all the freshwater mussels were imperiled.
But it is not just mussels. Many insect species are vulnerable because their populations have a severely restricted distribution, often just a single locality. “The giant flightless darkling beetle (Polposipus herculeanus), for instance, lives only on dead trees on the tiny Frigate Island in the Seychelles. The Socorro sowbug (Thermosphaeroma thermophilum), an aquatic crustacean that has lost its natural habitat, survives in an abandoned bathhouse in New Mexico,” explains Xerces.
Although freshwater and land mollusks are sometimes widespread species, they are generally vulnerable to extinction because so many are specialized for life in specific habitat conditions and are unable to move quickly from one place to another.
As a result, isolated populations are highly susceptible to change. “Rare insect species often have subtle habitat requirements and have even been lost from reserves as a result of apparently minor habitat changes,” explains Xerces. “The large blue butterfly (Maculina arion) larvae is an obligate parasite of red ant (Myrimica sabuleti) colonies. Accordingly, in 1979 this butterfly went extinct in England because plant communities were not managed for the ants. (The large blue has subsequently been successfully reintroduced to appropriately managed sites in England using a subspecies from Sweden.)”
Invertebrates Require Specialized Microecosystems
Studies of some European grasslands have shown that areas not grazed or reforested harbored significantly higher butterfly species richness and heterogeneity, and hosted more endangered species than grasslands in the early successional stages (Balmer and Erhardt 2000). Oldgrowth forests in temperate zones also have higher invertebrate diversity than younger stands because of the development of the microclimates that invertebrates thrive in.
Yet tropical rain forests however hold the majority of terrestrial invertebrate diversity and with rainforests and temperate old growth forests around the world being lost at a rapid rate, invertebrates are bound to go with them.
While Larger Governments Fail, Local Governments, Citizens and Homeowners Can—and Must—Act NOW
“The widespread destruction of the earth's biodiversity occurring today must be matched by a conservation response on an order of magnitude greater than that which currently exists. Ultimately, the key to protection of any species is protecting its habitat,” explains Xerces.
But with little leadership found in governmental agencies, community–level conservation will be required.
And this may be best developed through the development of amateurs who enjoy watching—and watching out after—invertebrates.
It should be hoped that these amateur enthusiasts would advocate in their local governments for the designation of wilderness areas, conserved for the benefit of many species, or for the protection of invertebrates in particular.
Since many invertebrates only need small areas to thrive, this goal is easily obtainable by even the smallest local government…
Or the homeowner.
Backyard gardens can function as adequate reserves for many invertebrates and encouraging homeowners—and the cities who would otherwise require them to destroy the weeds and ecology the invertebrates require—to undertake the necessary private action to save invertebrates is urgent.
Yet habitat must also be protected for marine species and marine reserves will require larger governmental action.
The power of citizens to petition their governments will be important at this juncture in our planet’s history as we embark upon a trying period of extinction when many wonderful creatures will be lost forever.
Assistance in Writing Petitions
The Meadowlark Herald will provide free assistance to any citizen interested in conserving invertebrates in their Town, City, County or State through the conservation of wilderness, the illegalization of the environmental toxins that threaten invertebrates, through the legalization of homeowner conservation efforts, or other effective means.
Petitions are easy, usually free of cost, and highly effective ways for an individual who is concerned about the interests of their neighborhood to make necessary and good laws.
Politicians do not have a monopoly on lawmaking any more than professional biologists can monopolize the joy and important observation of wild creatures.
And it is the obligation of those interested amateurs who enjoy the invertebrates—and all the other living creatures of this world—to stand up and speak upon their behalf, and defend those beautiful and important ecology they love.