Invertebrates, the key monitors of the health of habitats, are – still – in trouble … When will those with backbone – us – ever learn? Your thoughts here or at NAEEUK
A startling 20 per cent of world’s invertebrates, including insects and worms, are now endangered. The Independent’s Michael McCarthy reports
One-fifth of the world’s invertebrates, “the little things that run the world,” may be heading for extinction, according to the Zoological Society of London.
The society (ZSL) suggests that about 20 per cent of the world’s insects, spiders, worms, crustaceans, molluscs and other animals without backbones are endangered, for reasons ranging from pollution and over-harvesting to the effect of invasive species.
The report, entitled “Spineless”, and produced in conjunction with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which compiles the Red List of threatened species, is the first attempt at estimating the global conservation status of invertebrates.
Invertebrates constitute almost 80 per cent of the world’s 1.9 million known species and display staggering diversity, ranging from microscopic zooplankton to giant squid which can reach 18 metres in length.
But much less attention is paid to them than to vertebrate animals, which include mammals, birds, fish and reptiles, and are far fewer in number (totalling about 60,000 species).
And this is the case even though invertebrates are crucial in maintaining ecosystems – without insects, for example, we would lose much of the pollination services upon which agriculture depends, and without earthworms, the processes that spread organic matter through soil would be disrupted.
Two years ago, an earlier study suggested that a fifth of all vertebrates were facing extinction, and today’s report puts the conservation status of the smaller and more numerous invertebrate animals at the same level.
Threatened species in Britain include the brilliantly-coloured ladybird spider, once thought extinct and clinging on in Dorset and the freshwater pear mussel, famous for its pearls and now confined to a handful of rivers. Also at risk is the white-clawed crayfish, which has been ousted from many of its haunts by an American crayfish species. Others at risk in the UK include the shrill carder bee, the tansy beetle and the bog hoverfly, found only on Dartmoor.
The new report was carried out by analysing the 12,000 invertebrate species whose conservation status has been investigated and assessed by the IUCN, and projecting the threat across all species. It found that the highest risk of extinction tends to be associated with species that are less mobile and are only found in small geographical areas.
For example, vertebrate amphibians and invertebrate freshwater molluscs both face high levels of threat – around one third of species. In contrast, invertebrate species which are more mobile like dragonflies and butterflies face a similar threat to that of birds, and around one tenth of species are at risk.
“Invertebrates constitute almost 80 per cent of the world’s species, and a staggering one in five species could be at risk of extinction,” said Dr Ben Collen, of the ZSL.
The society’s director of conservation, Professor Jonathan Baillie, added: “We knew that roughly one fifth of vertebrates and plants were threatened with extinction, but it was not clear if this was representative of the small spineless creatures that make up the majority of life on the planet.
“The initial findings indicate that 20 per cent of all species may be threatened. This is particularly concerning as we are dependent on these spineless creatures for our very survival.”
At risk: Bugs’ lives
Bog hoverfly (Eristalis cryptarum)
A rare hoverfly that in recent years has been found only within a restricted area of Dartmoor.
Shrill carder bee (Bombus sylvarum)
Threatened by loss of the extensive flower-rich areas and suitable nesting sites of long tussocky grass it needs to survive.
Freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera)
Facing threats from illegal pearl fishing – 75 per cent of the species’ sites have been damaged by criminals.
Tansy beetle (Chrysolina graminis)
Once widespread, but dependent for its sole food source on the tansy plant, which is declining.
- The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice: Facing disaster: the little things that rule the world (selvavidasinfronteras.wordpress.com)
- One-Fifth Of World’s Invertebrate Species Face Extinction (sott.net)
- Invertebrates said at risk of extinction (upi.com)
- Spineless Creatures under Threat, from Worms to Bees (scientificamerican.com)
- Butterflies ‘more endangered than tigers’ (junkscience.com)
- Q&A: Sustainability Now a Matter of Life and Death (ipsnews.net)
- At-Risk Species Still on U.S. Menus (news.discovery.com)
- The Future Of Fish Extinction: Sooner than you think (greenerideal.com)
- Rare mussels almost ‘wiped out’ (bbc.co.uk)
The Independent on Sunday reports: Government expects legal challenges from wildlife activists as it consults on how to tackle TB in cattle
Farmers in England are to be issued with licences to cull badgers under plans to halt the spread of tuberculosis in cattle herds, which will spark a storm of protest from animal lovers.
MY VIEW: Surely this is a clear case of humans, not being able to get the bottom of an issue, using a wonderful but inconspicuous creature – it’s nocturnal and unfortunatly not loved by all – being made to be a scapegoat! Just as well badgers are not a national emblem or they have no real voice… Hang on, that’s most plants and animals!
FROM THE INDEPENDENT BLOGS
How contemptuous to label people concerned about wildlife as a “Wind in the Willows” generation. I suppose people who concern themselves about the fate of gorillas could be called “Gorilla in the Mist” generations. Concerned about Lions? Then you must be a “Born Free” generation.
I am a concerned about wildlife generation and in particular, the most persecuted wildlife in the world..The British Wildlife.
Badgers may “Allegedly” carry TB but they don’t cause it, so why the hell don’t the government tackle the cause of this disease rather than slaughter innocent wild animals.
Our wildlife should be protected, by law, and only culled in circumstances proved by overwhelming evidence. Thereby setting an example to the rest of the world in good wildlife management.
I am absolutely disgusted with the abuse of our wildlife, with Foxes guts being used to lay scents, as the most disgusting example of abuse I have ever heard of.
This new cull has no supporting evidence as to its effectiveness and is being countenanced as a sop to the wealthy landowning friends of this incompetent government.
Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, will risk legal action – and the wrath of generations of Wind in the Willow readers – to give the go-ahead for a cull in the areas worst affected by the disease.
The coalition will launch a public consultation later this month on the precise details of the scheme, which would allow landowners who can prove the measures are necessary to cull and vaccinate badgers over an area of at least 50 square miles.
As well as the distress to farmers caused by the slaughter of infected herds – 25,000 cattle were destroyed last year – the ongoing crisis which has gripped the countryside also costs the Treasury millions every year. Compensation payments totalled around £90m in 2009, with cases concentrated in the south-west of England.
The move will not be without controversy. Politics and wildlife rarely make happy bedfellows. Labour endured a storm of protest after bringing in a foxhunting ban which has proved almost impossible to police or enforce.
A senior source at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “This will not be popular with people who view badgers as something from Wind in the Willows or Beatrix Potter, but it is the right thing to do. We cannot go on not taking action to deal with this huge problem.”
While there is widespread evidence that badgers carry TB and can pass it to livestock, a decade-long study, costing £35m, by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, concluded that culling could not “meaningfully contribute” to control of the disease because it displaces the badgers, spreading the disease over a wider area. As a result, the Labour government rejected calls for a cull, and instead focused on vaccination. However, the issue remains contentious, with the former chief scientist Sir David King saying culling has a part to play.
A cull ordered by the Welsh Assembly has been dogged by controversy and legal challenge, costing the taxpayer £57,000. In July, the Badger Trust, which opposes any cull, won a court appeal to halt a planned cull of 1,500 badgers in north Pembrokeshire and parts of Ceredigion.
The coalition is braced for a challenge in England, where the cull is likely to be larger. Earlier this year, the Farming minister Jim Paice stressed the need for civil servants to “get absolutely everything sorted before we commence” because campaigners would challenge the plan through judicial review. “We must make sure that either they are convinced they can’t win, or we win if it does go to review,” he said.
Earlier this year, researchers from Imperial College London and the Zoological Society of London suggested repeated culling of badgers reduces the incidence of TB in cattle, but the benefits disappeared four years after the programme ended.
To cull or not to cull?
Sir David King, the former chief scientist, believed the high cost of a cull would be offset by the reduction in TB.
Peter Kendall, the president of the National Farmers’ Union, said of a decision not to cull: “This is devastating for the farming families whose lives and businesses are being ruined by TB in cattle.”
A 2008 study by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB said culling could not “meaningfully contribute” to controlling the disease.
An Imperial College London and Zoological Society London study found the practice to be cost-ineffective.
Government trials have concluded that culling only works over more than 300sq km, otherwise badgers just move.
By Matt Chorley, Political correspondent
The Welsh Assembly Government plans to kill badgers in a vain attempt to eradicate cattle Tb. See http://wales.gov.uk/newsroom/?lang=en
Badger Trust http://www.badger.org.uk/Content/Home.asp
Save the Badger http://www.savethebadger.com/
Back off Badgers http://www.backoffbadgers.org.uk/