Issue 4
Monday, 03 June 2019
Charles Darwin University
E-news
Dr Stefanie Oberprieler’s research findings highlight the importance of invertebrates for biodiversity in Northern Australia
Dr Stefanie Oberprieler’s research findings highlight the importance of invertebrates for biodiversity in Northern Australia

Researcher: include insects in conservation planning

By Danielle Lee-Ryder

Hundreds of invertebrates new to science have been discovered across Northern Australia, prompting a call for the inclusion of insects in conservation planning.

Entomologist with the Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods, Dr Stefanie Oberprieler, who received her PhD during CDU’s May graduation ceremonies, said insects were the backbone of biodiversity.

Her PhD research focussed on native ants, beetles, flies and spiders across the Top End, particularly in Kakadu and Nitmiluk national parks.

“Invertebrates comprise about 80 per cent of animal species. They play crucial roles in the health and stability of the wider environment, but are often overlooked in wildlife surveys,” she said.

"This area is a seriously understudied hot spot.

"Conservation efforts are typically targeted at vertebrates – mainly birds, mammals, reptiles and frogs – under the assumption their conservation would also protect insects.”

Dr Oberprieler said her research recorded hundreds of insects and spiders, with more than 75 per cent undescribed or new to science.

“Worldwide, insects are becoming extinct at an alarming rate. Areas such as Kakadu hold an undiscovered biodiversity richness and we’re probably losing species before we even know they exist,” she said.

“We can’t conserve what we don’t know, and when it comes to insects we really don’t know much at all.”

Dr Oberprieler worked to improve understanding of the diversity and distribution patterns of insects and spiders and to identify practical ways of documenting them in the context of conservation planning.

“When it comes to management decisions, it’s important we consider vertebrates and insects equally and to do that we need direct data on insect diversity patterns,” Dr Oberprieler said.

“Insects must be included in wildlife surveys as they are extremely important to the ecosystem. We can’t keep putting them in the ‘too-hard basket’. There are sampling shortcuts to help overcome issues land managers face when dealing with the vast number of species.

“We need to kick start action plans to include insects in the first place. Hopefully, this will set a precedent to build a brighter future for their conservation efforts,” she said.