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Professor Jeremy Kerr poses with a butterfly, one of the many species his research focuses on. Photo: Courtesy of Bonnie Findley.

Invertebrates neglected in biodiversity conservation efforts, says study

Professor Jeremy Kerr of the University of Ottawa’s Department of Biology joined a group of Carleton University students in a study of the conservation and protection of different endangered species, and found that research on invertebrates is lacking.

The study, published in the journal FACETS on July 26, showed that the conservation efforts surrounding these species is also falling short.

“We wanted to try to measure the discrepancy, how much more we are studying mammals and birds and reptiles relative to the far more diverse invertebrates which includes insects. A lot of little things that don’t get a lot of attention,” said Kerr.

As a specialist in invertebrate studies and the study of insects, Kerr was able to shed some light on how little is known about these species in the new study, entitled Taxonomic Bias and International Biodiversity Conservation Research.

The research team used data on more than 10,000 species from the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List to examine “taxonomic and geographic biodiversity conservation research trends worldwide,” as stated in the study’s abstract.

The study highlights that the effectiveness of conservation strategies such as the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity depends on a wide variety of factors, which include funding, government intervention, and the condition of ecosystems.

According to Kerr, there is a general lack of funding for invertebrates, which results in poor conservation of these species as well as a subpar knowledge of what they contribute to the animal cycle.

The study also cites “technical limitations” in reference to the lack of public knowledge on invertebrates, suggesting that it is more difficult to study insects than it is to study larger animals.

In his work, Kerr advocates for a diversification in society’s views on insects.

“The problem is we built the net to protect vertebrates. We haven’t done a very good job at building a net to protect invertebrates, and there are way more species out there that are invertebrates (which) do things we cannot do without, like pollination. That is entirely a function of the activities of insects and they get disproportionately small attention.”

Kerr said that if these endangered insects go unnoticed they might eventually go extinct, which can result in the destruction of the animal kingdom, as invertebrates make up most of the life on Earth.

However, as mentioned in the study, more research on endangered invertebrates does not necessarily ensure their survival. But what it can do is provide a greater awareness of these species and promote the development of policies aimed at their protection.

“We need to make sure if we are building a conservation net that it is attaching everything, not just the stuff that is big and fuzzy.”