‘If we and the rest of the back-boned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if the invertebrates were to disappear, the world’s ecosystems would collapse.’
Sir David Attenborough
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At least 65% of all species on the planet are invertebrates. There are more than 32,000 terrestrial and freshwater and 7,000 marine species in the UK alone, and many are critically endangered.
If there are so many species, does it matter if some are lost? Yes, it does. They all have a critically important role to play in the web of life and they cannot be replaced once lost.
- Invertebrates provide us with food and ecological, agricultural, medical and technological benefits.
- Bugs are essential food to most birds and mammals.
- Invertebrates are integral to ecosystem function - for instance, many of our wildlflowers would be lost without insect pollination.
- A lot of them may yet be recognised as of benefit to man, in areas such as biological pest control, or medicine.
- And most have incredible life stories yet to be told. We literally don't know what we are on the brink of missing.
Mankind has a responsibility to work within the environmental limits of the planet – otherwise we may be condemning many species including ourselves to extinction.
Just how threatened are invertebrates?
A Crab spider (Thomisus sp) © Dragisa Savic
Habitat fragmentation, intense agricultural practices, climate change and many other human activities are damaging invertebrate populations.
One of the problems facing invertebrate conservationists is our lack of knowledge on their exact status. Perhaps this is unsurprising given that there are 40,000 species and only a few hundred experts who are studying them. However what we do know presents a very worrying picture. Many species are in decline, and significant numbers of species are definitely or feared to be extinct.
- Worldwide, an estimated 570,000 species could be extinct by 2100.
- The British Red Data Book for Insects, published in 1987, includes 1786 species whose continued existence is threatened - and that is just for the best known groups.
- Almost a third of all bees and wasps are under threat.
- Over 70% of butterflies are declining significantly.
- It is estimated that at least 15% of the total UK invertebrate fauna is under threat = 4,500 species in decline.
- The Species of Conservation Concern list, which contains information on the designation and status of UK species, includes about 40% of the British fauna in well known groups. If we extrapolate from this figure it would equate to 12,000 species of our land and freshwater invertebrate species.
- Species such as the Short-haired bumblebee and the Essex emerald moth have become extinct in the last 15 years.
Most conservation organisations now recognise the problem but lack the information and expertise to integrate the conservation needs of such varied groups of animals.
There is clearly a great deal at stake and an enormous challenge to be met by Buglife.