Insect diversity of a Costa Rican dry forest: why keep it, and how?



The dry forest of the 108 km2 Santa Rosa National Park in northwestern Costa Rica contains as many as 13 000 species of insects (including 3140 species of moths and butterflies) sustained by and sustaining about 700 species of plants and 400 species of vertebrates. These insects require explicit conservation attention. They are more than just decorations on the plants; rather, they are the building blocks and glue for much of the habitat. They are the food for much of the carnivore community, and the insect species are not merely interchangeable bits of nutrients. They are major killers of seeds, and thereby influence both the plant species composition of a habitat and prevent the better competitors from taking it over. They are the primary pollinators and are specific enough to be neither interchangeable nor replaceable with other animals; the seeds resulting from their pollination activities are major animal foods in the habitat. They are a diverse, puzzling, complex, intrinsically attractive, and major part of the intellectual display offered by tropical wildlands, the display that will be the eventual foundation for most of the reason why tropical wildlands will be retained as such in the future.

The retention and maintenance of insect species richness in a tropical wildland is strongly rooted in the preservation of plant species richness, in maintaining habitat mosaics (different members of which are used by a given insect in different seasons), in preserving a large diversity of habitats, and in recognizing the threat posed by insect crop associates in nearby agricultural lands.