Out of all things, why marine invertebrates?

By now, everyone knows that a lot of us in FEZ are working with marine invertebrates. But why? Aren’t these just weird worms that do nothing but crawl on the ocean floor? Not really, and I’ll try to explain why.

From the 34 phyla of the Animal kingdom, 31 of them include at least some kind of marine invertebrate, and most of them are almost exclusively composed of animals from this group. This shows that these creatures are exceptionally diverse and represent a large proportion of life on Earth. Some well-known marine invertebrates include molluscs, crustaceans and jellyfishes, and all the organisms we are studying on the Invertomics and Artsdatabanken projects also belong to this extraordinary group.

Marine invertebrates inhabit every corner of the ocean, from remote hydrothermal vents to the cold waters of the poles and everything in between. They surpass all the fish in the sea, both by species and mass, making up over 92% of life in our oceans! Naturally, they play a key role in these ecosystems. They form the basis of numerous food chains, some of them pick parasites off of fish or remove harmful algae from coral reefs (which are marine invertebrates too!), others create essential habitats for other species and some can even clear the water of organic particles. Besides that, they also provide important services for us, humans, being a food source and a tool for biological monitoring of environmental quality, among other things.

Sea pig (Scotoplanes sp.), a weird invertebrate that crawls on the ocean floor. Picture available here.

Despite their importance as a major component of marine habitats and having a crucial ecological role, pressures such as pollution, climate change and habitat degradation keep threatening marine invertebrates. Taxonomists have expressed concern that many species may go extinct before they are even discovered and described. As much as vertebrates, invertebrates also need to be protected. These simple organisms ultimately help sustain our fragile ecosystem both in and outside the ocean.

As the famous biologist E.O. Wilson once wrote “If human beings were to disappear tomorrow, the world would go on with little change. However, if invertebrates were to vanish, I doubt that human species could last more than a few months”.

If you want to test your knowledge about these organisms or simply want to learn more, here’s a short quiz. Let us know your score in the comments!

Featured image by Arthur Anker, available here

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