Threatened arthropods

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Threatened arthropods are defined here as any of a number of species within the phylum Arthropoda, whose extinction is likely in the foreseeable future. Estimating the number of threatened arthropod species is extremely difficult, primarily because a vast number of the species themselves are not yet named or described. Furthermore, according to Deyrup and Eisner, [1] "The rate of destruction and degradation of natural habitats is currently so great that there are not nearly enough biologists to even catalog the arthropod species that are suddenly on the edge of extinction." In any case, independent estimates indicate that there are millions of undocumented arthropods on Earth. [2]

In biology, a species is the basic unit of classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A species is often defined as the largest group of organisms in which any two individuals of the appropriate sexes or mating types can produce fertile offspring, typically by sexual reproduction. Other ways of defining species include their karyotype, DNA sequence, morphology, behaviour or ecological niche. In addition, paleontologists use the concept of the chronospecies since fossil reproduction cannot be examined. While these definitions may seem adequate, when looked at more closely they represent problematic species concepts. For example, the boundaries between closely related species become unclear with hybridisation, in a species complex of hundreds of similar microspecies, and in a ring species. Also, among organisms that reproduce only asexually, the concept of a reproductive species breaks down, and each clone is potentially a microspecies.

In biology, a phylum is a level of classification or taxonomic rank below kingdom and above class. Traditionally, in botany the term division has been used instead of phylum, although the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants accepts the terms as equivalent. Depending on definitions, the animal kingdom Animalia or Metazoa contains approximately 35 phyla, the plant kingdom Plantae contains about 14, and the fungus kingdom Fungi contains about 8 phyla. Current research in phylogenetics is uncovering the relationships between phyla, which are contained in larger clades, like Ecdysozoa and Embryophyta.

Extinction Termination of a taxon by the death of the last member

In biology, extinction is the termination of an organism or of a group of organisms (taxon), usually a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the species, although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point. Because a species' potential range may be very large, determining this moment is difficult, and is usually done retrospectively. This difficulty leads to phenomena such as Lazarus taxa, where a species presumed extinct abruptly "reappears" after a period of apparent absence.


Arthropods as a group have been very successful organisms on this planet, comprising over half of all the higher life forms. However the expanding human population has led to demise of many arthropod species through the mechanisms of deforestation, conventional farming, slash-and-burn methods in the tropics, habitat fragmentation via urban development, excessive use of pesticides and even the success of forest fire suppression.

Organism Any individual living physical entity

In biology, an organism is any individual entity that propagates the properties of life. It is a synonym for "life form".

Human overpopulation The condition where human numbers exceed the short or long-term carrying capacity of the environment

Human overpopulation occurs when the ecological footprint of a human population in a specific geographical location exceeds the carrying capacity of the place occupied by that group. A more controversial definition of Overpopulation as advocated by Paul Ehrlich is a situation where a population in the process of depleting non-renewable resources. Under this definition changes in lifestyle could cause an overpopulated area to no longer be overpopulated without any reduction in population, or vice versa.

Deforestation removal of forest and conversion of the land to non-forest use

Deforestation, clearance, clearcutting or clearing is the removal of a forest or stand of trees from land which is then converted to a non-forest use. Deforestation can involve conversion of forest land to farms, ranches, or urban use. The most concentrated deforestation occurs in tropical rainforests. About 31% of Earth's land surface is covered by forests.

The social/political practice whereby a species is given a formal designation as "Endangered" or "Protected" is a different matter, called "Conservation status", and discussed elsewhere; see Endangered Species List for the United States, and IUCN Red List for international purposes. Only a tiny fraction of the planet's endangered arthropods are formally recognized as such, as no one has ever evaluated the conservation status of the vast majority of arthropod species.

Conservation status Indication of the chance of a species extinction, regardless of authority used

The conservation status of a group of organisms indicates whether the group still exists and how likely the group is to become extinct in the near future. Many factors are taken into account when assessing conservation status: not simply the number of individuals remaining, but the overall increase or decrease in the population over time, breeding success rates, and known threats. Various systems of conservation status exist and are in use at international, multi-country, national and local levels as well as for consumer use.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

IUCN Red List Inventory of the global conservation status of biological species

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, founded in 1965, has evolved to become the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species. It uses a set of criteria to evaluate the extinction risk of thousands of species and subspecies. These criteria are relevant to all species and all regions of the world. With its strong scientific base, the IUCN Red List is recognized as the most authoritative guide to the status of biological diversity. A series of Regional Red List are produced by countries or organizations, which assess the risk of extinction to species within a political management unit.

Difficulty of estimating numbers of species

The endangered Delhi Sands flower-loving fly. Rhaphiomidas terminatus abdominalis.jpg
The endangered Delhi Sands flower-loving fly.

It is difficult to estimate the total number of endangered arthropod species, since many of the taxa themselves have not been recorded. For example, in North America the estimated number of insect species exceeds 163,000, of which only about two thirds are taxonomically known. [3] An even greater discovery awaiting, over 72 percent of North American arachnids are yet to be named and described. [3]

North America Continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere

North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered by some to be a northern subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the west and south by the Pacific Ocean, and to the southeast by South America and the Caribbean Sea.

Arachnid Class of arthropods

Arachnids are a class (Arachnida) of joint-legged invertebrate animals (arthropods), in the subphylum Chelicerata. Almost all adult arachnids have eight legs, although the front pair of legs in some species has converted to a sensory function, while in other species, different appendages can grow large enough to take on the appearance of extra pairs of legs. The term is derived from the Greek word ἀράχνη (aráchnē), from the myth of the hubristic human weaver Arachne who was turned into a spider. Spiders are the largest order in the class, which also includes scorpions, ticks, mites, harvestmen, and solifuges. In 2019, a molecular phylogenetic study also placed horseshoe crabs in Arachnida.

The total number of living arthropod species is probably in the tens of millions. [2] One conservative estimate puts the number of arthropod species in tropical forests alone at six to nine million species. [4] As a consequence of all of the above, most published estimates of the total number of endangered insects and arachnids are probably low by at least an order of magnitude. [3] Conservatively at least eighty percent of all living animal species are arthropods. [5]

Ecological risks

Since arthropods constitute the majority of the faunal biomass on Earth, their role is vital to the survival of large numbers of insectivores and other animals that prey upon arthropods. This includes enormous numbers of mammals, avafauna, fishes, reptiles and amphibians; in addition, arthropods constitute the bulk of faunal pollinators, so that the survival of crops as well as millions of natural flora species depend on robust and biologically diverse arthropod populations. [6]

Insectivore organism that eats insects

An insectivore is a carnivorous plant or animal that eats insects. An alternative term is entomophage, which also refers to the human practice of eating insects.

Mammal class of tetrapods

Mammals are vertebrate animals constituting the class Mammalia, and characterized by the presence of mammary glands which in females produce milk for feeding (nursing) their young, a neocortex, fur or hair, and three middle ear bones. These characteristics distinguish them from reptiles and birds, from which they diverged in the late Triassic, 201–227 million years ago. There are around 5,450 species of mammals. The largest orders are the rodents, bats and Soricomorpha. The next three are the Primates, the Cetartiodactyla, and the Carnivora.

Fish vertebrate animal that lives in water and (typically) has gills

Fish are gill-bearing aquatic craniate animals that lack limbs with digits. They form a sister group to the tunicates, together forming the olfactores. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish as well as various extinct related groups. Tetrapods emerged within lobe-finned fishes, so cladistically they are fish as well. However, traditionally fish are rendered paraphyletic by excluding the tetrapods. Because in this manner the term "fish" is defined negatively as a paraphyletic group, it is not considered a formal taxonomic grouping in systematic biology, unless it is used in the cladistic sense, including tetrapods. The traditional term pisces is considered a typological, but not a phylogenetic classification.

The survival of diverse arthropods is essential to propagation of higher animals on the food chain, e.g. those species who prey upon the insectivores and other taxa that consume arthropods. Even if constant arthropod total biomass results after certain arthropod extinctions, the ecosystem stability is compromised by reduction in species numbers. Thus extinction of arthropods species threaten to make extinct hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of higher order birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.

Mechanisms of arthropod endangerment

Aerial photo of the Anjajavy Forest, Madagascar which holds a number of endangered arthropods. Anjajavyforestrazorback.jpg
Aerial photo of the Anjajavy Forest, Madagascar which holds a number of endangered arthropods.

There are several pathways of endangerment for arthropods; however, most of them stem from the pressures of an expanding human population and resulting actions humans take to produce food, housing, transportation and recreation. Probably the greatest hazard to arthropod survival is agriculture, due to the ever increasing demand of the human population to feed its expanding numbers. Agriculture typically results in a monoculture that cannot support the biodiversity nurtured by the predecessor natural environment. Normally arthropods represent the largest number of species that are displaced by such farming. In tropical regions the major threat is slash-and-burn agricultural techniques pursued by indigenous peoples in their sometimes only available method of subsistence.

Pesticide use is also a major threat to arthropod species survival. Pesticides may have an intended effect of killing specified insects in a farming environment; however, considerable pesticide applications kill unintended species by the lack of specificity of most chemical formulations; moreover, much of the insect mortality arises from pesticide runoff entering surface waters or from transporting toxic chemicals to downgradient environments.

Habitat fragmentation has special methods of endangerment beyond the amount of land consumed by the fragmenting agent. As an example, consider the construction of a highway, whose width is an effective barrier to arthropod migration. Many arthropods never migrate more than about 200 feet from their place of birth, so a freeway or dual carriageway effectively fragments many arthropod colonies such that they cannot interact. Studies have shown the greater vulnerability to extinction where habitats are fragmented. [7]

Example endangered arthropods

The following is a very small fraction of the potentially hundreds of thousands of endangered arthropods, limited to species which have been formally recognized as to their special conservation status:

The endangered European freshwater crayfish. Ecrevisse a pattes blanches.jpg
The endangered European freshwater crayfish.

See also

Related Research Articles

This is an index of conservation topics. It is an alphabetical index of articles relating to conservation biology and conservation of the natural environment.

The Alabama cave shrimp is a species of shrimp in the family Atyidae, found only in caves in the state of Alabama.

Kentucky cave shrimp species of crustacean

The Kentucky cave shrimp is an eyeless, troglobite shrimp. It lives in caves in Barren County, Edmonson County, Hart County and Warren County, Kentucky. The shrimp's shell has no pigment; the species is nearly transparent and closely resembles its nearest relative, the Alabama cave shrimp.

Habitat fragmentation

Habitat fragmentation describes the emergence of discontinuities (fragmentation) in an organism's preferred environment (habitat), causing population fragmentation and ecosystem decay. Causes of habitat fragmentation include geological processes that slowly alter the layout of the physical environment (suspected of being one of the major causes of speciation),and human activity such as land conversion, which can alter the environment much faster and causes the extinction of many species.

Wildlife conservation practice of protecting wild plant and animal species and their habitats

Wildlife conservation is the practice of protecting wild species and their habitats in order to prevent species from going extinct. Major threats to wildlife include habitat destruction/degradation/fragmentation, overexploitation, poaching, hunting, pollution and climate change. The IUCN estimates that 27,000 species of the ones assessed are at risk for extinction. Expanding to all existing species, a 2019 UN report on biodiversity put this estimate even higher at a million species. It's also being acknowledged that an increasing number of ecosystems on Earth containing endangered species are disappearing. To address these issues, there have been both national and international governmental efforts to preserve Earth's wildlife. Prominent conservation agreements include the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). There are also numerous nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) dedicated to conservation such as the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International.

Near-threatened species IUCN conservation category

A near-threatened species is a species which has been categorized as "Near Threatened" (NT) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as that may be considered threatened with extinction in the near future, although it does not currently qualify for the threatened status. The IUCN notes the importance of re-evaluating near-threatened taxon at appropriate intervals.

Critically endangered IUCN conservation category

A critically endangered (CR) species is one that has been categorized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.

Tropical Andes

The Tropical Andes are the northern of the three climate-delineated parts of the Andes, the others being the Dry Andes and the Wet Andes. The Tropical Andes' area spans 1,542,644 km2 (595,618 sq mi).

Insect biodiversity

Insect biodiversity accounts for a large proportion of all biodiversity on the planet—over half of the estimated 1.5 million organism species described are classified as insects.

Bird conservation field in the science of conservation biology related to threatened birds

Bird conservation is a field in the science of conservation biology related to threatened birds. Humans have had a profound effect on many bird species. Over one hundred species have gone extinct in historical times, although the most dramatic human-caused extinctions occurred in the Pacific Ocean as humans colonised the islands of Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia, during which an estimated 750-1800 species of bird became extinct. According to Worldwatch Institute, many bird populations are currently declining worldwide, with 1,200 species facing extinction in the next century. The biggest cited reason surrounds habitat loss. Other threats include overhunting, accidental mortality due to structural collisions, long-line fishing bycatch, pollution, competition and predation by pet cats, oil spills and pesticide use and climate change. Governments, along with numerous conservation charities, work to protect birds in various ways, including legislation, preserving and restoring bird habitat, and establishing captive populations for reintroductions.

Rodrigues fody species of bird

The Rodrigues fody is a rare species of bird in the weaver family. It is endemic to Rodrigues, an island of Mauritius. It is classified by BirdLife International as being vulnerable. It is also on the United States' Endangered Species List with an endangered status.

Endangered species Species of organisms facing a very high risk of extinction

An endangered species is a species which has been categorized as very likely to become extinct in the near future. Endangered (EN), as categorized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, is the second most severe conservation status for wild populations in the IUCN's schema after Critically Endangered (CR).

Defaunation is the global, local or functional extinction of animal populations or species from ecological communities. The growth of the human population, combined with advances in harvesting technologies, has led to more intense and efficient exploitation of the environment. This has resulted in the depletion of large vertebrates from ecological communities, creating what has been termed "empty forest". Defaunation differs from extinction; it includes both the disappearance of species and declines in abundance. Defaunation effects were first implied at the Symposium of Plant-Animal Interactions at the University of Campinas, Brazil in 1988 in the context of neotropical forests. Since then, the term has gained broader usage in conservation biology as a global phenomenon.

Vulnerable species IUCN conservation category

A vulnerable species is one which has been categorized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as likely to become endangered unless the circumstances that are threatening its survival and reproduction improve.

In ecology, extinction debt is the future extinction of species due to events in the past. The phrases dead clade walking and survival without recovery express the same idea.

Decline in insect populations

Several studies report what appears to be a substantial decline in insect populations. Some of the insects most affected include bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, dragonflies and damselflies. Anecdotal evidence has been offered of much greater apparent abundance of insects in the 20th century; recollections of the windscreen phenomenon are an example.


  1. Mark A. Deyrup and Thomas Eisner (2001). "Snapshots at the Edge of a Cliff". Wings. 24 (2).CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  2. 1 2 Southern Appalachian Information Node: Resources about Arthropods
  3. 1 2 3 Redak, Richard (2000). "Arthropods and Multispecies Habitat Conservation Plans: Are We Missing Something?". Environmental Management. 26 (Supplement 1): S97–S107. doi:10.1007/s002670010065.
  4. Chad Arment, Cryptozoology: Science and Speculation, 393 pages. ISBN   1-930585-15-2 (2004)
  5. Anna Thanukos, The Arthropod Story, University of California, Berkeley
  6. Jaboury Ghazoul and R. Uma Shaanker, Sex in Space: Pollination among Spatially Isolated Plants, Biotropica: Volume 36, Issue 2, Page 128, June, 2004
  7. Brigette Michele Braschler, (2005) Effects of Experimental Small-Scale Grassland Fragmentation on the Population Dynamics of Invertebrates PhD Thesis, University of Basel