The little things that matter

Hardly noticed on Waterton's wildlife scene are its smallest creatures, the invertebrates.

Invertebrates are animals "without backbones." They make up about 95% of all known animal species, yet we know far less about them than the vertebrates (fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals). There are well over 1 million known species of invertebrates worldwide, yet there may be as many as 3 to 10 times this number undiscovered.

Butterflies, beetles, spiders, ticks, earthworms and snails all contribute to Waterton's diverse invertebrate communities. Whether on land or in water, high on a mountain ridge or deep in prairie soil, these spineless wonders inhabit every nook and cranny within the park.

Invertebrates are also food for an array of animals. For example, many birds, as well as bats and bears, all rely on insects for protein, and aquatic invertebrates are prey for fish such as trout.

Some invertebrates are good indicators of habitat change and ecosystem health. They may even be more suitable in this capacity than larger, more studied animals. A good example of this is the mountain pine beetle . A first step in understanding the importance of invertebrates in the park is to find out what you have by carrying out a proper inventory of them.

In 1998, researchers from University of Calgary and the Blood Tribe, embarked on a three-year invertebrate biodiversity baseline inventory in the park. This research was part of a larger invertebrate study being done throughout the mountain national parks .

During the summer, traps which looked like nothing more than tents for midgets were set in the park. Researchers collected trapped insects twice a week, then counted and cataloged them.

Research on invertebrates will help determine stability or changes in population abundance and variety, which will add to our understanding of diversity in the park and the Crown of the Continent ecosystem.