Invertebrates: High diversity but low on conservation agenda

by Nipu Kumar Das

Well, we are aware of the extinction of megafaunal species like Dinosaur, Dodo, Woolly mammoth, and so on. However, if asked about the extinction of invertebrates like snails, ants or spiders, we might frown the brows in doubt! You will be surprised to know that mollusc (the soft-bodied organisms such as snails, slugs, clams, etc.) has the highest rate of extinction that comprises of approximately 39.12% total animal species that have disappeared since 1700 AD. Likewise, Insects alone witnessed 6% of the total animal extinction (IUCN Red list 2020).

A Tarrantula (Theraphosidae) spider

Photo: Udayan Borthakur

The loss of charismatic animals such as mammals and birds, amphibians and reptiles, has been documented and prominently featured in the popular media. The limelight of conservation is always on the larger vertebrates. Efforts by India’s National Tiger Conservation Authorities groundbreaking work on Indian tigers; Government efforts in conservation of species like One-horned Rhino, Pygmy Hog etc.; non-governmental organizations (NGO) like Aaranyak’s effort towards the community-based protection and conservation work on Greater Adjutant Stork in Assam, Dakshin Foundation’s work on Sea Turtle conservation, etc., are commendable. Recent literature estimated that vertebrates have received more attention in conservation related research across terrestrial, freshwater, and marine habitats [1]. On the contrary, invertebrates receive very less attention globally and attract a disproportionately minor research effort (funding and interest), although they are comprising of nearly 99% of animal diversity [2]. This kind of bias in conservation research has direct consequences on funding, scientific study, and policymaking and thus conservation.

Invertebrate plays a significant role in our ecosystem. They are a food source for many vertebrates in the food chain and are also known to be important ecological indicators, thus helping in understanding of environmental health. Pollination service is one of the major roles provided by bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, and moths. Unfortunately, according to Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United States (FAO) 2020, about 40% of invertebrate pollinator species (particularly bees and butterflies) are facing extinction at the global scale. Thus, there are many such roles played by invertebrates which go unnoticed.

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