Biodiversity: Freshwater Invertebrate Conservation

This is a review by Justin Londer of a paper written by David L. Strayer entitled "Challenges for Freshwater Invertebrate Conservation." The paper is in the journal "The North American Benthological Society," (2006. 25(2): 271-287).

The author notes five significant challenges that we must face to address the loss of freshwater invertebrate biodiversity.

1) Somewhere around 10,000 species of freshwater vertebrates around the world may already be extinct or imperiled.

2) Human pressure on aquatic systems is already intense and is likely to only become more intense in the future.

3) Scientific knowledge while substantial is very low compared to terrestrial organisms and especially vertebrates. And, even the best known aquatic invertebrates that have recognition and protection are perhaps studied and understood around 1% as much as are most typical vertebrates.

4) Because water flows downhill through watersheds, conservation must address watershed level scales that can be extremely far reaching and extensive.

5) Society is less interested in freshwater invertebrate conservation than other species, thus much less research money and attention is paid to these species. On average the median expenditure for freshwater invertebrates on the US endangered species list was only $24,000 and only a small minority of species even got this level of support.

6) A sixth problem indicated indirectly by the author is that many of these invertebrates have small habitat ranges and are not able to disperse well. Since all extinction of species occurs in the local scale, this could mean that small changes we create in aquatic ecosystems directly or indirectly could be large changes for a freshwater invertebrate and large enough to cause the extinction of a species.

Some of the causal causes of freshwater invertebrate extinction can relate to: habitat destruction and degradation, pollution, invasive species, direct harvest, global climate change, direct harvest and other factors that are interrelated.

The authors suggestion for a resolution is to move away from individual species based approaches that have been successful for terrestrial species, and move towards approaches that are more scaled towards managing a watershed or even regional approaches that satisfy the human need for water while preserving biodiversity.

As we don't fully understand their ecological roles and importance, we should attempt to protect freshwater invertebrate biodiversity. Freshwater invertebrates are diverse: about 90,000 species representing 17 phyla and ~ 570 families have been formally described. New species are discovered every year, even in areas well explored. According to the author, perhaps something like 20,000 to 200,000 remain to be discovered - thier values do as well.

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