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Seven Spineless Impediments - Conservation

Seven Spineless Impediments

“If human beings were to disappear tomorrow, the world would go on with little change,” the prominent biologist E.O. Wilson once wrote. “But if invertebrates were to disappear, I doubt that the human species could last more than a few months.” Despite their ubiquity and importance, however, conservationists face some hefty challenges in protecting creatures with no backbones. Seven of those major challenges – and some possible solutions – are detailed in a new essay by four researchers.

“The ways human beings benefit from the conservation of invertebrates are hard to quantify and the general public is often unaware of them,” the quartet — Pedro Cardoso and Terry L. Erwin of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., Paulo A.V. Borges of the Universidade dos Açores in Portugal, and Tim R. New of La Trobe University in Australia – write in Biological Conservation. About 80% of all described species are invertebrates, they note, and economists estimate that insects alone provide $57 billion a year in pollination and other services. “Despite their high diversity and importance for humankind,” however, “invertebrates are often neglected in biodiversity conservation policies.”

There are at least seven reasons, they write. “Three of the impediments are societal dilemmas, which interested parties face when deciding how important invertebrate conservation is,” they note. “Four of the impediments are scientific shortfalls, related to areas of knowledge that are still far from sufficient and that sometimes reflect critical lack of data and understanding.”

The seven impediments are:

(1) Invertebrates and their ecological services are mostly unknown to the general public – a problem the team dubs “the public dilemma.”

(2) Policymakers and stakeholders are mostly unaware of invertebrate conservation problems (the political dilemma).

(3) Basic science on invertebrates is scarce and underfunded (the scientific dilemma).

(4) Most species are undescribed (called the Linnean shortfall, after Carl Linneaus, the pioneering 18th century naturalist who devised the system for naming species).

(5) The distribution of described species is mostly unknown (the Wallacean shortfall, named after the 19th century biological geographer Alfred Russell Wallace ).

(6) The abundance of species and their changes in space and time are unknown (the Prestonian shortfall, named after biologist Frank Preston, who studied how common and rare species change over space and time).

(7) Species ways of life and sensitivities to habitat change are largely unknown (the Hutchinsonian shortfall, after 20th century ecologist G. Evelyn Hutchinson).

There are solutions to each of these dilemmas, the authors write. To boost the public profile of invertebrates, and help overcome some of the political impediments, the researchers recommend “better public information and marketing,” including greater use of “red lists” of threatened species, and making sure invertebrates are addressed in environmental impact studies. For the scientific dilemmas, they offer a range of solutions, including greater use of citizen science programs to catalog species, increased funding for taxonomy, inventories and related studies, and the creation of standardized protocols for inventorying and monitoring.

“These impediments represent only one of the several possible ways of dividing the problems related to invertebrate conservation,” the authors conclude. But it is, they add, a “constructive” way of conceptualizing a tough problem. David Malakoff | August 21, 2011

Source: Cardoso, P., et al. The seven impediments in invertebrate conservation and how to overcome them. Biol. Conserv. (2011), doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2011.07.024

Image © Dona203 | Dreamstime.com

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