"But we forget that these represent only a few species in comparison to the whole of arthropod biodiversity," Basset said. "The majority of insects live in forests and are responsible for the maintenance of these forests via the different services of pollination, decomposition and herbivory.
In addition, many arthropods are efficient predators or parasites that suppress the levels of herbivores."
Outbreaks of pests do not exist in tropical forests, he pointed out, suggesting that arthropods help to keep ecosystems in balance.
These organisms additionally "represent a formidable, but untapped, reserve of DNA, genes and molecules - again about 20 times more species-rich than plants from which we nevertheless get most of our medications," he continued. "Who knows what may be concealed in these arthropod molecules and how we could use them? We also need to discover most of these species/molecules before they disappear from Earth."
This latest study and others indicate that we may be sharing the planet with about 6 million arthropod species. Out of these, we only know about 1 million, with the rest and many others possibly threatened by pollution, habitat loss, and other human-related problems.
"In this context, I have difficulties understanding the enthusiasm of the public for the search for extra-terrestrial life," Basset said. "Are we not wasting dollars on a doomed quest, whereas with a fraction of these funds, we could easily, as our study indicates, unveil a substantial amount of the Earth's biodiversity before it is too late?"
Top photo: Scarab beetle (Megasoma elephas, Dynastinae) in the understory of the San Lorenzo forest. Credit: Thomas Martin, Jean-Philippe Sobczak & Hendrik Dietz, TU Munich. Middle Photo: Dawn Frame and Alexey Tishechkin in the crane gondola netting insects attracted to flowers of Nectandra purpurascens. Credit: Jürgen Schmidl, Laboratory Copyright: University of Erlangen.