Florida is home to an estimated 20,000+ species of invertebrates (animals without backbones, e.g., insects, spiders, crabs, millipedes) – more than all of Florida’s birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish combined. Invertebrates play diverse and important roles in all of Florida’s native ecosystems. Marine invertebrates like corals and sponges form the structural foundation of reef ecosystems, which are of vital importance to marine biodiversity. Freshwater invertebrates like mussels and other molluscs purify water and serve as an important food source for fish and other aquatic wildlife. On land, terrestrial invertebrates – primarily insects – perform myriad ecological functions as predators, decomposers, and pollinators of native plants.
Beyond the ecosystem services they provide, invertebrates are diverse and captivating creatures in their own right, and many are threatened by the same forces that impact much of Florida’s native wildlife. As of 2019, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has identified 421 invertebrates as ‘Species of Greatest Conservation Need’ (SGCN), many of which occur only in our state. FWC works with partnering organizations throughout the state of Florida to inventory and monitor invertebrate populations and their associated habitats. Research conducted at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) helps guide conservation efforts for these species throughout the state.