Research reveals global arachnid trade networks

A graphical summary of the main findings of the study section. Image by Ben Marshall

The ornate rainforest spider (Peocilotheria ornata) is an endangered species native to Sri Lanka and is popular in trade. Image by Kenneth Chin

The neon blue-legged tarantula (Birupes simoroxigorum) is a striking species and a prime example of the threat to arachnids. The earliest photographs of a species that had never been described at the time were used for hunting, illegal export and description, and the species is now popular in the trade, but nothing is known about its natural history. Image by Chien Lee

Alice Hugheshe of the University of Hong Kong’s School of Biological Sciences and collaborators found that about 1,200 arachnoid species have been or are being traded globally, with 80 percent of them unregulated. The study highlights that millions of spiders, scorpions and their relatives are being bought and sold, and that there is an urgent need for trade regulation to prevent biodiversity loss. The study was published May 19 in Communications-Biology.

Hughes and colleagues surveyed the global arachnid trade from 2000 to 2021, combining the U.S. Law Enforcement Management Information System (LEMIS), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora international trade database, and a systematic search of global online arachnid retailers. They found that 1264 arachnoid species had been or were being traded, and 993 (79 percent) were listed on arachnid sales sites but were not included in the trade database.

“This shows that their trade is unregulated and that these species may be vulnerable to unsustainable capture and trade.” Hughes said.

Among the popular trade species, they found that during the period studied, 77 percent of the monarch scorpions were harvested from wild fish, and a million individuals were imported from the United States alone. In addition, more than 50 percent of tarantula species are traded, including 600,000 bawnopterae spiders, a group that includes the common pet species , the Chilean red rose spider.

Of all traded species, two-thirds of individuals are reported to be captured in the wild, and they believe that wild capture may have a negative impact on wild populations if it develops to an unsustainable level.

To identify possible barriers to regulating trade in arachnids and their impacts, the researchers also investigated which species have been assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and which have been regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. They found that less than 1 percent of the more than 1 million known invertebrate species were assessed by the IUCN, while only a tiny fraction of the trade in invertebrate species (for example, only 39 out of 52,060 known spider species) was managed by CITES. This means that the vulnerability of traded species is still unknown and often unregulated.

The researchers argue that the lack of data on the distribution of most arachnid species means that it is currently nearly impossible to assess vulnerability and develop appropriate management and conservation policies, while slow reproduction rates and small ranges can make them particularly vulnerable. The authors add that improved trade monitoring and management not only improves the understanding of the distribution and conservation status of wild arachnid species, but is also necessary to understand the impact of trade on natural populations and prevent biodiversity loss. (Source: China Science Daily Feng Lifei)

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