UNLOVED BUT VI­TAL

Life on Earth would be very dif­fer­ent with­out this mag­nif­i­cent seven: our se­lec­tion of im­por­tant yet of­ten over­looked groups of an­i­mals.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Conservati­on Choices -

MIDGES

Though some species of midge are cer­tainly trou­ble­some to us, the enor­mous blooms that ap­pear in spring and sum­mer can en­er­gise en­tire food-chains. Many species of fish (which prey on the lar­vae) and birds such as swifts (which aeri­ally fil­ter-feed) de­pend on midges, which are also cru­cial pol­li­na­tors. With­out For­cipomyia midges there would be no choco­late – they are the only flies small enough to climb into the flow­ers of ca­cao plants.

SOIL MITES

It is es­ti­mated that the up­per­most layer of soil is one of the most densely colonised an­i­mal habi­tats on Earth. Each square me­tre may be home to 250,000 soil mites oc­cu­py­ing a host of niches. Ori­b­atid mites (the most pro­lific) are im­por­tant de­com­posers, eat­ing dead plants, fungi and car­rion.

PROCHLOROC­OCCUS

There may be 200,000 of th­ese cyanobac­te­ria in ev­ery millil­itre of sea­wa­ter. Prob­a­bly the most abun­dant form of life on the planet yet dis­cov­ered as re­cently as 1986, th­ese are pri­mary pro­duc­ers in marine en­vi­ron­ments. The oxy­gen in one in ev­ery two breaths we take may be a re­sult of their hard work.

DUNG BEE­TLES

Pound for pound, few crea­tures match dung bee­tles for eco­nomic value. One study sug­gests that the in­sects con­trib­ute $380 mil­lion each year to the Amer­i­can econ­omy. By bury­ing dung, they im­prove arable nu­tri­ent re­cy­cling and soil struc­ture, as well as pro­tect­ing live­stock from in­ver­te­brate pests that con­gre­gate near mounds of dung.

FRUIT BATS

Not only do th­ese mam­mals pro­vide cru­cial pol­li­na­tion ser­vices, but bi­ol­o­gists are now be­gin­ning to un­der­stand that they also play a vi­tal role in seed dis­per­sal. By ingest­ing seeds that they trans­port and later defe­cate, fruit bats may also help plants to re­colonise ar­eas that hu­man­ity has de­stroyed. Some Old World species may carry them many hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres.

ANTS

Ants are among the world’s ear­li­est ecosys­tem en­gi­neers. By ac­tively mov­ing earth while nest­build­ing, they serve as cru­cial mix­ers of the soil’s up­per lay­ers, much like earth­worms. And they add value in other ways, too. By bring­ing scav­enged in­sects and other in­ver­te­brates back to their nests, colonies of ants in­ad­ver­tently raise the nu­tri­ent lev­els of the lo­cal soil.

PAR­ROT­FISH

Gnaw­ing al­gae from rocks and coral with their large, beak-like teeth, par­rot­fish pro­tect one of the most pro­duc­tive ecosys­tems on Earth from be­ing over­whelmed. They also in­di­rectly con­trib­ute to the tourism in­dus­try: par­rot­fish ex­cre­tions pro­duce the finest grains on the most idyl­lic white-sand beaches.

Par­rot­fish pre­vent coral reefs from be­ing over­whelmed by al­gae, fruit bats dis­perse seeds and dung bee­tles re­turn nu­tri­ents to the soil.

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