Why should we care about slugs?
After all, slugs are strange and slimy creatures seemingly hell-bent on destroying the vegetables we worked so hard to nurture in our gardens.
Well, biologist Kristiina Ovaska says that slugs play a vital role in the ecosystem. Ovaska co-authored the recent government report Management Plan for Haida Gwaii Slug in British Columbia.
She says, “small organisms that are small, but mighty break down organic matter, and some of the slugs also disperse spores of mushrooms and little truffles that form intricate relationships with trees.”
Her report finds that a species of small slugs found only in Haida Gwaii and a remote area of North Vancouver Island are threatened by climate change and habitat destruction.
“We should keep in mind that [though] they may be small, they have millions of years of evolution,” she said. “We don’t fully understand what they do and what their functions are in the forest.”
Slugs are part of the foundational makeup of forested ecosystems.
Their slime is filled with millions of years of elements adapted to their local environment are irreplaceable in the food chain.
The government designated the Haida Gwaii slug as a species of special concern back in 2013. Ovaska’s report for the BC Ministry of Environment recommends measures to reduce threats. These include:
- Work with land managers to establish a habitat protection plan for the slugs;
- Reduced logging and mitigating climate change as extreme weather changes push the Haida Gwaii slug to endangered status;
- Reduce the number of Sitka black-tailed deer in the slugs’ limited habitat. As the deer browse on vegetation, they decrease the amount of plant litter on the ground, depriving the slugs of cover and needed moisture. Unfortunately, it also exposes the slugs to damaging wind and sun
Although they’re not as cute as polar bears or as powerful as Orcas, the Haida Gwaii slug and other non-glamorous species still need to be protected from extinction if we want our forests to sustain and flourish.