I am working on a section for a chapter of a book about California Ecosystems. This book will consist of different chapters for the different ecosystems in California, which include information on the biodiversity present in those ecosystems, but there will also be one chapter on overall California biodiversity. That is the chapter I am contributing to- each group of organisms: plants, mammals, birds, herps…get their own section of the chapter, each the same length. When I started to think about how I could fit an overview of all of the California invertebrates in 10 double-spaced pages, I immediately thought about how unfair it is that inverts get the same amount of space- because there are about a thousand times more invertebrates in California than all of those other categories combined! I tried to walk the line between very broad and very specific- because the coolest things about inverts are the specifics, like how exactly yucca moths interact with yucca plants, it’s truly amazing, check out the Bug Chicks video of the mutualism below.
I learned a ton researching for and writing this chapter section. For instance, I never realized just how diverse invertebrates are in California. I thought the state was somewhat depauperate, mostly because I grew up in a place where the summer nights were hot and humid and you couldn’t walk outside without getting hit in the head by a beetle! Ah, those were the days…. Anyways, I was somewhat correct in that any given area in California does not have a ton of invert diversity and the cold nights make for difficult nocturnal living, but California as a whole is an amazing mosaic of invertebrate diversity. The fact that I can drive 10 miles from my house, pretty much in any direction, and find a new set of insects is pretty remarkable. In fact, California is home to around 35,000 species of insects, which is about 30% of all the species in the US and Canada combined!
I did already know that California was a insect conservation and biodiversity hotspot not only because of all these unique ecosystems and microhabitats, but also because there are many people here and many more people who want to live here. California is home to more than half of the federally listed threatened and endangered invertebrate species in the US. As a scholar of threatened insects, I don’t get to learn about other invertebrates as often as I’d like; yet, for this section, I had to write about ALL invertebrates, not just insects. So, I stretched, learned, and wrote about one of the most critically endangered invertebrates in California, the White Abalone.
I am no eater of sea food, but apparently abalone is delicious and white abalone is the most succulent of all. Well, that caused the species to plummet to near extinction in the 1980s. White abalone fishing was banned in 1996, but the species just wouldn’t recover. Why? Well, it turns about that it didn’t matter if a few individuals were left, there weren’t enough in one area to successfully reproduce! Abalone reproduce by broadcast spawning- they spew out sperm and eggs in hopes they unite in the water column. Unfortunately, this only works when abalone are in high enough densities for the sperm and egg to meet. While white abalone adults were found in their habitats, juveniles were rare and it is now known that the adult densities were too low to make babies. Today, there is a White Abalone Restoration Consortium that collects sperm and eggs to breed white abalone in captivity. The reared individuals are then returned to the sea to increase adult densities for natural reproduction. It is a great story of science being used for conservation!
I’m not sure when this book will come out, but it ended up being a lot of fun and, of course, I got to include the Ohlone tiger beetle in the conservation section :).