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FILE PHOTO: A dung beetle (Scarabaeus satyrus) is seen at the University of Lund in Sweden in this photo provided by Scanpix on January 25, 2013. REUTERS/Drago Prvulovic/Scanpix(reuters_tickers)
By Alister Doyle
OSLO (Reuters) - Governments should extend the protection of nature far beyond iconic creatures such as tigers and elephants to species including worms and beetles that are vital to human prosperity, the chair of a global scientific project said on Thursday.
"We are trying to ... put biodiversity and ecosystems on the same level - as an environmental, economic, social, security issue - as climate change," Robert Watson told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"Biodiversity is absolutely central to human well-being" as the source of everything from food to medicines, said Watson, chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
More than 550 IPBES experts from more than 100 nations, in the most comprehensive review to date, will issue regional reports about the state of nature in the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, Africa, and Europe and Central Asia in March 2018.
They will also issue a report on land degradation and restoration in 2018, and a global summary of biodiversity in 2019, he said.
Man-made threats to nature include pollution, the clearance of forests to make way for farms and cities, invasive species in new habitats and rising temperatures caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions.
Watson said people often think of charismatic species - such as lions, polar bears or orangutans - when they consider threats to the natural world. He said the reports would put a far wider spotlight on how ecosystems work.
And he said that less well-known creatures, such as worms or insects, are vital by helping to cycle nutrients in the soil.
"Some of the most important species aren't very charismatic - like the dung beetle in the African plains," Watson said.
"If you tell people 'We need to save the dung beetle' I think one's going to get a pretty jaundiced look," he said.
IPBES issued its first report last year, showing that bees and other pollinators are at risk from pesticides and disease.
It estimated that $235 billion to $577 billion of annual world food production at market prices, from coffee in Brazil to apples in China, depends on pollinators.
The IPBES reports would gauge the risks to natural systems, ranging from coral reefs to cloud forests.
Some past U.N. reports say that human pressures mean the world is heading for a "sixth extinction" comparable to the cataclysm that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
(Reporting by Alister Doyle; Editing by Hugh Lawson)