Invertebrates – The Backbone of the Planet

Last Friday I attended a joint conference on Invertebrate Conservation between the Amateur Entomological Society and British Ecological Society. In short, the conference was great!

The first talk was by Jon Curson from Natural England. His talk was entitled ‘The habitat mosaic approach – and its importance for invertebrates in grasslands, heathlands and other open habitats’. I really enjoyed this talk as it highlighted to me not only the importance of diverse habitats for invertebrates in Britain, but also the importance of structural variation and heterogeneity on small scales. Some invertebrates, for example the heath tiger beetle, require bare ground to reproduce but longer grassland to survive as an adult. Jon also highlighted the benefits that a mosaic of habitats will have on a wide variety of species, not just those species of conservation concern. The transitions between the components of the mosaic have also been shown to be important. Soft edges allow gradients to develop, therefore increasing the number of niches available in a habitat.

Sea walls were the topic of the next talk by Tim Gardiner. I have to admit that living as far inland as it is possible in Britain, I knew nothing about sea walls before this talk.  However Tim’s talk showed how important these sea walls are for invertebrates. Sea walls contain a wide variety of habitats so therefore can support a wide variety of species if managed properly. This highlighted the eternal problem of maintaining the needs of both wildlife and humans. Tim has been compiling a guide on seawall management in order to allow them to perform their vital function while supporting diverse assemblages of invertebrates.

The next talk was by Paul Evans from Buglife on their Bee Line project. The idea of this ambitious project is to connect important wild flower rich invertebrate habitats together with corridors or stepping stones. This will also benefit nearly all other terrestrial taxa. I loved the idea of this as it supports John Lawton’s 2010 report entitled ‘Making Space for Nature’ which concludes that nature reserves are not enough to protect species in Britain. The main purpose of B lines is to create  more habitats while tackling fragmentation by linking up habitats meaning there is no more than 1km gap between important patches of habitat. I have to admit as soon as I heard about this project, I was extremely excited. However it will take a lot of work to achieve this project and I’m not sure if it will ever be completed. But by organisations and the public working together, there is some really easy ways that we can work towards achieving this goal in our only small ways.

The next presentation was on Springtails. Here Thom Dallimore spoke about the neglected work of small invertebrates called springtails, some of which jump around using a spring like device called a furcula. Thom spoke about how the general public don’t engage with springails, even though they are of vital importance to the soil ecology. We know very little about the British springtail species or even how many species there are in Britain. There are also global threats to soil and in Britain we are quite likely to be affected dramatically by these (man made) threats. Thom finally spoke about how current recording schemes do not accurately account for smaller species as their distribution is more biased by local factors. For example we may know that a species is widespread all across Britain but it may have more specific habitats on a local scale, such as humid clay soils.

For those of you that know me well. You will know I am involved with the Garden Bioblitz, a citizen science project. Citizen science was the topic of the next talk by  Zoe Randle from Butterfly Conservation. Although nearly everyone agreed that citizen science is quite a horrible term, I think the value of citizen science is becoming more and more apparent in the nature conservation sector. There is such a variety of citizen science projects now that there is something for everyone to take part in. The data that is collected is also extremely valuable! For example, over 170 papers have been published using the data generated through Butterfly Conservation citizen science projects alone. The data is used on a wide range of levels from very local projects up to metadata analyses of climate change worldwide.

Next, the Earl of Selborne spoke briefly about what the Government are going to do to help invertebrates. If I am honest, all I heard was empty promises so it is best we skip over this bit.

The penultimate talk was by Stephen Miles  on the important topic of bare earth for invertebrates. I knew bare earth was important for invertebrates but did not realise how little this is taken into account during conservation work. Most of the bare earth on wildlife sites is created by walkers or cyclists, however these paths are becoming increasingly over used which disturbs the ground too much, or they are paved over. Stephen argued that we should limit walkers or cyclists and the paving over of pathways. However I think this is unlikely to happen. I think the solution would be to mechanically create bare earth elsewhere to support invertebrate communities. However these areas would require constant maintenance as the bare earth would undergo succession if it wasn’t walked on.

The final talk was on Paul Buckland. He was quite forward in his opinions and I am unsure about how I feel about his talk. His talk on peatlands was rather depressing as we have lost such a valuable habitat. He also had no confidence in Natural England describing them as a ‘toothless watchdog’, a sentiment that I’m sure some of the audience members must have shared.  Although his talk was quite depressing, it was inspirational in the respect that I felt it made people angry and want to do something.

However, the best thing about this event was meeting a variety of people. I’m usually not good at meeting new people but I felt comfortable talking to people at the conference as we shared so much in common. A shared love and concern for invertebrates – the backbone of the planet.

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7 responses to “Invertebrates – The Backbone of the Planet

  1. Hi Ryan, great resume of the conference that I too enjoyed very much! May I post a link to this page on the AES facebook page please, or would you like to? And I’d also like to email a link to all my fellow AES Council members if that’s ok with you? Thanks 🙂 Ralph Hobbs

  2. Hi Ryan,
    Mechanically disturbing soil to create bare patches can be useful but does not always go ass planned. Depending on the soil types it is necessary sometimes to remove a lot of top soil to get lasting bare ground. I hope to be researching some localised soil inversion and am hoping that the diggers will be able to initialise this this winter.

  3. Glad you enjoyed it. Plenty of food for thought.

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