The spineless backbone of biodiversity

Something has been bugging me since commencing my studies of biodiversity conservation, it has bugged me in almost every lecture and it continues to bug me as I scroll through the fantastic blogs from my fellow classmates. In fact I feel the only times it hasn’t bugged me have been when hanging out in my spider-infested college greenhouse.
Where are all the bugs? And not just the bugs, but the beetles, butterflies, black-widows and bottom-feeding barnacles.

inverts The spineless among us are not only incredibly important members of every ecosystem, they make up the vast majority of all living creatures on earth. They are the movers, shakers and ecosystem makers of our planet, and I’m not the only one who knows it. Without them our ecosystems would not function in anyway shape or form.

In lectures vertebrates would be broken into birds, reptiles, mammals, we know them well. But then tacked onto the end would be invertebrates. Just invertebrates. And when this was followed by, “invertebrates are just to variable to draw conclusions about” I would think to myself, but what about worms? beetles? molluscs? We could just as easily say “vertebrates are just too variable to draw any conclusions about.” but we don’t.
I investigated this outside the realm of university lectures to see how far this bias against the boneless extended into the real world. I turned to my Macbook (that’s the real world right?). After typing ‘insect’ into a Microsoft Word document and using the trusty ”right click- synonyms” function, it came up with ‘pest’. Type in ‘mammal’ and we are given lovely terms, ‘animal’, ‘being’- the bias continues. Now as much as most university students would like to build a shrine to the synonyms function of Word documents and hail it as Mecca, it’s not. So I took my research one step further. To Scopus, a database of scholarly scientific articles. Surly the academics have a little more heart! I used the search “insects and biodiversity and conservation”- 839 hits. Replace the word “insect” with “mammal”- 1062 hits.

So why is it that, despite honey, figs, detritus, clean water, not to mention the things that feed all the other things that we use and eat, and all the other glorious benefits invertebrates give us, we still have such little regard for them? When speaking of conservation and its importance, we rarely take examples from the invertebrates.
It’s not because they are immune to threats to biodiversity, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s 2010 Red List puts about 30% of the 1.3 million invertebrate species listed at risk of extinction.
Is it because they aren’t huggable? Or a lot of the time aren’t seeable? Maybe they are just too hard to figure out. Or maybe it’s because it’s difficult to relate to them, us having a spine and all… and sometimes they crawl under the bed, or give us a sting. Poor excuses I say because what we do know is this:

They are beautiful,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Photograph by Doug.Deep

useful,

useful

Photograph by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

delicious,

delicious
Photograph by Brett Stevens & Ian Wallace

they can do some really unbelievably amazing things like go into suspended animation! and they are incredibly diverse.
Invertebrates are utterly irreplaceable and deserve proper recognition.

Limiting our interest and conservation actions to vertebrates means we neglect some of the most fascinating and important animals on earth.
So here I plead and beg that you take the time to think about horseshoe crabs, nematodes, lacewings and amblypygids (if you don’t know what those are, look them up). Fight for the plight of the creepy-crawly and be thankful that they roam our earth.

Millie Stevens, biodiversity conservation student and invertebrate enthusiast.

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About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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One Response to The spineless backbone of biodiversity

  1. Yes, I am guilty of perpetuating this injustice and will ensure that more invertebrate biodiversity is injected to this course in future years!

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