Biodiversity, conservation and inventory: why insects matter

Western culture views insects and arachnids as pests and vermin that need to be controlled. They usually are not considered as something to be preserved. Accordingly, arthropods and other small organisms have not been taken seriously for conservation by policy makers and the conservation community at large. Arthropods, however, are major components of diverse ecosystems and are the major players in functioning of ecosystem processes. Arthropods are relentlessly vanishing before our eyes. They must be preserved because of their inherent values but also because we need them for human survival.

Having existed for more than 400 million years and after surviving the Permian and Cretaceous mass extinctions, arthropods have been the most successful of all living things and along with other invertebrates constitute more than three-quarters of today's global biodiversity. Aside from anthropocentric perception and societal prejudice, arthropods certainly are not pests in an ecological or evolutionary context and have an inherent biological right to exist in an evolutionary context, with ecological and instrumental values. Thus, arthropods must become an important and necessary part of the conservation strategy at all levels of environmental organization, from populations and species to ecosystems and landscapes.

Insect conservation aims at saving both endangered species and ecosystem processes with a multitude of approaches targeted at different scales. Conservation efforts for arthropods are daunting because all the odds are against them: whereas species diversity, population size and biomass are so large, taxonomy and faunal information are inadequate; whereas the need for taxonomic and biodiversity information increases greatly, the shortage of taxonomic expertise worsens.

Basic issues of biodiversity and the loss of species are reviewed. The goals and strategies for insect conservation are discussed with a focus on inventory and monitoring. Taxonomic and environmental surveys are compared, and the needs for biodiversity monitoring are discussed as ecological monitoring process based on inventory data. This monitoring focuses on the health of nested biodiversity (composition, structure and process) and the state of species, differing from other contemporary monitoring efforts.

Read the article: Ke Chung Kim (1993) Biodiversity and Conservation 2, 191-214