The vital tasks carried out by tiny "engineers" like earthworms that recycle waste and bees that pollinate crops are under threat because one fifth of the world's spineless creatures may be at risk of extinction, a study showed on Friday.
The rising human population is putting ever more pressure on the "spineless creatures that rule the world" including slugs, spiders, jellyfish, lobsters, corals, and bugs such as beetles and butterflies, it said.
"One in five invertebrates (creatures without a backbone) look to be threatened with extinction," said Ben Collen at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) of an 87-page report produced with the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
"The invertebrates are the eco-system engineers," he told Reuters. "They produce a lot of the things that humans rely on and they produce them for free."
The report said that invertebrates, creatures that have no internal skeleton, faced loss of habitat, pollution, over-exploitation and climate change.