Threatened Victorian non-marine invertebrates

Threats to invertebrates

The plight of many species of birds and mammals around the world is well known. There is a global awareness about the threats facing animals such as pandas, tigers, rhinoceroses and whales. In Australia there has also been a dramatic reduction in the number of species of medium-sized mammals, and several species have become extinct over the past 150 years. Victoria’s two faunal emblems, the Leadbeater’s Possum and the Helmeted Honeyeater, are both threatened.

Few people give much thought to the plight of our invertebrates, such as insects, spiders, earthworms and crustaceans. These are creatures without backbones and are rarely given the same status as the more charismatic birds and mammals. Yet there are many more species of invertebrates than vertebrates – invertebrates comprise some 98–99% of all animal species –and we have little idea of the number of invertebrate species that are threatened or have become extinct.

Eltham Copper Butterfly
Photographer: Alan Yen / Source: Museum Victoria

If there are so many species of invertebrates compared to vertebrates, why is it necessary to try to save threatened species of invertebrates? The answer is that every species plays a role in ecological systems, and we cannot predict what will happen if even a single species are lost from a system.

The threatened Victorian species

Although all native vertebrates are protected in Victoria, the only invertebrates that are given protection are those listed as threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988. These are species that the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Scientific Advisory Committee has considered eligible for listing for protection because they are in a state of demonstrable decline or are subject to threats that could result in their extinction in the foreseeable future.

By 2004, 46 species of non-marine Victorian invertebrates had been listed under the Act:

Acrodipsas brisbanensis
Large Ant-blue Butterfly

Acrodipsas myrmecophila
Small Ant-blue Butterfly

Allocharopa erskinensis
Land snail species

Arachnocampa species
‘Mt Buffalo Glow-worm’

Archaeophylax canarus

Athanopsis australis
Southern Hooded Shrimp

Australatya striolata
Eastern Freshwater Shrimp

Austrogammarus australis
Freshwater amphipod

The Murray Spiny Cray, Euastacus armatus
Photographers / Source: John Gooderham & Edward Tsyrlin

Austrogammarus haasei

Engaeus mallacoota
Mallacoota Burrowing Crayfish

Engaeus phyllocercus
Narracan Burrowing Crayfish

Engaeus rostrogaleatus
Strzelecki Burrowing Crayfish

Engaeus sternalis
Warragul Burrowing Crayfish

Euastacus armatus
Murray Spiny Cray

Euastacus bispinosus
Glenelg spiny cray

Euastacus crassus
Alpine Spiny Cray

Euastacus diversus
Orbost Crayfish

Euastacus neodiversus
South Gippsland Spiny Cray

Eucalliax tooradin
Ghost shrimp species

Geminoropa scindocataracta
Land snail species

Gramastacus insolitus
Western Swamp Cray

Hemiphlebia mirabilis
Hemiphlebia Damselfly

Heteronympha cordace wilsoni
Western Bright-eyed Brown Butterfly

Hygrobia australasiae
Water beetle species

Hyridella glenelgensis
Glenelg freshwater mussel

Megascolides australis
Giant Gippsland Earthworm

Michelea microphylla
Ghost shrimp species

Myrmecia sp. 17
Bull ant

Notopala sublineata
River snail species

Ogyris idmo halmaturia
Large Brown Azure Butterfly

Ogyris otanes
Small Brown Azure Butterfly

Ogyris subterrestris
Ogyris Butterfly

Ogyris s. subterrestris ssp. nov.
Mildura Ogyris Butterfly

Paralucia pyrodiscus lucida
Eltham Copper Butterfly

Peronomyrmex bartoni
Ant species

Riekoperla darlingtoni
Mt Donna Buang Wingless Stonefly

Riekoperla intermedia

Riekoperla isosceles

Synemon nais

Synemon plana
Golden Sun Moth

Synemon theresa

Taskiria otwayensis
Caddisfly species

Thaumatoperla alpine

Thaumatoperla flaveola

Theclinesthes albocincta
Bitterbush Blue Butterfly

Xylocopa aeratus
Metallic Green Carpenter Bee

The Giant Gippsland Earthworm, Megascolides australis
Photographer: Alan Yen / Source: Museum Victoria

The range of invertebrates listed for protection is quite varied taxonomically, and ranges from earthworms and freshwater amphipods to aquatic insects and butterflies. It includes both freshwater and terrestrial invertebrates. This reflects the broad range of threatening processes encountered by our invertebrate fauna, including increased sedimentation in streams, vegetation clearance, and habitat fragmentation.

The threatened status of species such as the Golden Sun Moth is indicative of the loss of vast areas of particular vegetation types since European settlement. In the case of the Golden Sun Moth, almost all Victoria’s native grasslands and grassy open-woodlands have been lost or seriously degraded.

The list of threatened species also highlights the threat faced by species which have their populations restricted to small vulnerable patches of land such as the Eltham Copper Butterfly and Warragul Burrowing Crayfish. Some scientific modelling has predicted that if the Greenhouse Effect does lead to an increase in global temperatures it may lead to reduced snowfalls and the contraction of truly alpine environments in Victoria. If this does occur it may increase the risk of extinction faced by invertebrates which live in alpine environments, or are restricted to a small number of peaks.

What you can do

The important message is that invertebrates are an integral part of our environment and require conservation, just like the better known vertebrate fauna. The 25 listed species represent only a tiny fraction of the Victorian fauna. The Giant Gippsland Earthworm exemplifies the animals that turnover our soils and ensure recycling of essential nutrients and assist drainage. The aquatic insects such as the stoneflies are indicators of clean and healthy water. Some of the butterflies are involved in complex ecological interactions; their larvae feed on a particular species of plant, and many species have a close association with particular species of ants.

Many of the threatened larger animals such as tigers and rhinoceroses are threatened by direct hunting. But most threatened animals, whether vertebrate or invertebrate, are threatened primarily by habitat loss or alteration. The major issue that we must be aware of is that native habitats, no matter how small, are home to a large range of native invertebrate species.

Further Reading

Yen, A. L., New, T. R., Van Praagh, B. and Vaughan, P. J. 1990. Invertebrate Conservation: Three case studies in Southeastern Australia. In Clark, T. and Seebeck, J. H. (eds). Management and Conservation of Small Populations. Chicago Zoological Society, Brookfield, Illinois: pp. 207–224.

Comments (2)

sort by
annie fraser 13 February, 2010 16:19
hundreds of baby river snails ?? Banks of Curdies river inlet Peterborough Vic 3270 12 Feb 2010 I am 71 and never seen them before.
Adam 7 June, 2011 15:40
"Eucalliax tooradin Ghost shrimp species" Isn't this a marine species?
Write your comment below All fields are required

We love receiving comments, but can’t always respond.