When people first realised the effect we have on wildlife, they instantly started to protect it. Generally the more impressive a species was the more it was deemed to be worth saving. But now we’re realising that there are far more reasons for protecting wildlife than ‘we like it’, and this changes what we choose to save.
Most invertebrates don’t come under the ‘impressive’ category, but they do provide essential services – pollination, decomposition, maintaining soil quality, essential parts of the food chain etc. But lots of the services they provide are far more complex, and they act in ways we don’t understand. What we also don’t know, particularly in less studied parts of the world, is the distribution of most insects.
Two German scientists recently published a study in Biological Conservation which asked the question – if we choose which areas to protect based on which vertebrates or plants live there, are we effectively protecting invertebrate diversity?
They found that, on a large scale, the regions of Europe that have a high diversity of plants and vertebrates also have a high diversity of invertebrates. One of the reasons for this is that, in the last ice age, glaciers were widespread in Europe. Where there were glaciers there were obviously few plants and animals. When the glaciers receded it still took time for the wildlife to return – so the diverse areas now are the ones where the glaciers didn’t reach.
They found that the diversity of vertebrate species was more closely related to the diversity of some groups of invertebrates than others. Ants and ground beetles, for example, represent the diversity of other species of vertebrates and invertebrates. They would, therefore, be good groups to act as surrogates to work out the diversity of the region – the diversity of ground beetles could be used to identify diversity hotpots, without the need for accurate surveys of all plants and animals.
Invertebrates, despite their essential role in supporting life on Earth, have often been neglected in conservation schemes, and this study suggests how we can best incorporate them.
Schuldt A and Assmann T (2010) Invertebrate diversity and national responsibility for species conservation across Europe – A multi-taxon approach Biological Conservation doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2010.07.022