In the first study of its kind, researchers from the University of Adelaide have investigated the level of online trade in invertebrates in Australia and believe they have only uncovered the tip of the iceberg.
“In a one-year period we found 264 different species of terrestrial invertebrates that were for sale online in Australia,” said University of Adelaide PhD student Charlotte Lassaline, from the Invasion Science and Wildlife Ecology Lab, who led the study.
“This is the first time that anyone has looked at the number of invertebrates– both native and non-native species – that are being traded online in Australia.
“The most traded species was the spiney leaf stick insect and the Flinders Ranges scorpion. Other popular species included tarantulas, scorpions, and ants. We even uncovered the trade of 57 species of ant.
“Buyers are looking to acquire unusual species of invertebrates – even those that are lethal or dangerous to humans.”
While the online trade in reptiles, birds and other mammals has been studied within Australia highlighting the threat to species, there is no similar research into the extent of terrestrial invertebrates.
“While most of the invertebrates were native species, our investigation exposed the trade of three invasive species: the white garden snail, the Asian tramp snail, and the African big-headed ant which pose serious threats to Australia’s biosecurity,” said Ms Lassaline.
“This is the first time that anyone has looked at the number of invertebrates– both native and non-native species – that are being traded online in Australia.”Charlotte Lassaline, University of Adelaide PhD student from the Invasion Science and Wildlife Ecology Lab
“The African big-headed ant is even listed among the worst 100 pests in the world.
“Most traded invertebrates are bought as pets and remain captive all their life but if they are released – intentionally or otherwise – they can cause millions of dollars in damage consuming agricultural crops and competing with native species.’
The team investigated 23 Australian online pet stores and one popular classifieds website as part of the study that has been published in the journal Austral Entomology .
“Invertebrates are often neglected in conservation efforts and research, with majority of focus on larger-bodied charismatic species. We hope our research can start to change that,” said Ms Lassaline.
“Encouraging people to learn more about and develop a passion for invertebrates is highly important for their conservation; however, it is equally important to regulate the trade of these species to mitigate associated risks,”
“Despite the startling range of threats identified in our research, regulation is currently lacking on the trade of invertebrates for pets in Australia.”
Legislation concerning the import and export of invertebrates across state borders exists to some extent in all Australian states and territories but variation in legislation across the country hampers biosecurity and conservation efforts.
“Australia’s online invertebrate trade presents a delicate balance between encouraging passion for these underappreciated critters, and promoting sustainable trade practices to minimise risks to Australia’s environment,” said Ms Lassaline.
“Strengthening regulations, encouraging responsible practices, and fostering collaborations between researchers, hobbyists, and conservation organisations are vital steps towards ensuring the preservation of Australia’s unique invertebrate biodiversity.”
Please also see an article published on The Conversation website.
Lead image: Spiney leaf stick insect (Extatosoma tiaratum) iStock
Original story published in the University Newsroom.
Charlotte Lassaline, PhD Student, Invasion Science and Wildlife Ecology Lab, School of Biological Sciences, University of Adelaide. Mobile: +61(0)478 913 000, Email: email@example.com
Crispin Savage, Manager, Media and News, The University of Adelaide. Mobile: +61 (0)481 912 465. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org