Gland, Switzerland, 24 May 2004 (IUCN)-The World Conservation Union. 'Expanding the Ark' neatly summarises the aims of the invertebrate specialists who gathered at the American Museum of Natural History in New York for a symposium recently. They plan to raise awareness of invertebrate conservation requirements so that these are included in conservation planning, management and policy decisions. Currently, invertebrate species are often overlooked in conservation strategies, despite representing the vast majority of our planet's biodiversity: a staggering 95% of all known animal species.
To address this, the global invertebrate conservation community, including SSC, has united under a new initiative: the 'Expanding the Ark Coalition' (ETAC). This will provide an ideal forum for deciding the best ways to advance invertebrate conservation and help mobilise the necessary resources.
Considering the sheer number of invertebrates on our planet - 1,190,200 species have been described and nearly 10,000 new ones are discovered each year - it is not surprising to learn that they play an indispensable ecological and economic role. Invertebrates occupy key roles in most food chains through nutrient recycling, pollination, pest control and water filtration, as well as performing many other vital functions. Conserving invertebrate biodiversity is therefore essential for the maintenance of ecosystem health. From squids to dragonflies, and spiders to termites, invertebrates are also fascinating animals in their own right, many displaying incredible life histories.
However, it is the sheer abundance and diversity of invertebrates that makes assessing their conservation status on limited resources one of the biggest challenges to conservationists. Recent studies suggest that many invertebrates face imminent extinction, so the importance of this challenge cannot be understated. To date, the threatened status of only 3,400 invertebrates has been assessed (0.2% of known species) and 1,959 species are included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Initial steps were taken by the IUCN's Species Survival Commission (SSC) to improve invertebrate conservation by organising a workshop in November 2001. This brought together representatives of all the SSC invertebrate Specialist Groups and other experts to develop a plan of action for the Commission's invertebrate conservation work.
As a result, the geographical coverage of invertebrate Specialist Groups has increased, with the creation of new European and South Asian Specialist Groups and a Declining Pollination Task Force. The ongoing SSC Freshwater Biodiversity Assessment Programme has fully integrated invertebrates starting in Eastern Africa where all species of odonates (including dragonflies and damselflies), freshwater molluscs and crabs have been assessed.
ETAC aims to build on this work and give fresh impetus to invertebrate conservation. A lot remains to be done, but following the symposium, the global invertebrate conservation community, including SSC members, are enthusiastic and motivated to meet the challenge.
Several proposals have already been suggested:
Revive the Grasshopper and Cricket (Orthopteroidea) and Butterflies and Moths (Lepidoptera) Specialist Groups.
Complete a Global Dragonfly Assessment
Consider developing a European Invertebrate Red List
Andrew McMullin, IUCN/SSC Communications Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel: ++41 22 999 0153