Why is biodiversity so important to humanity and necessary for the stability of the planet?
What is biodiversity?
Biodiversity is the combination of two words, “Biological” and “Diversity” and it represents the total variety and variability of life on Earth - Thousands of different world habitats, millions of different species, billions of different individuals and the trillions of different characteristics they posses. So, why do we need it?
To put it simply - the more biodiversity, the more secure all life on earth is. Only when life is at its most varied, vigorous and biodiverse can we hope to thrive and at the moment, it’s under attack. In the last 50 years our activities have dramatically reduced biodiversity across the globe. We have snuffed out habitats, reduced populations of wild animals by 60% and even driven whole species extinct. The number of Lions in Africa has dropped by 60%, the number of flying insects in Europe by 75% and the number of Blue Fin Tuna by a massive 95%. Around 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, many within decades. Biodiversity is dropping everywhere and rapidly, at a rate that is unprecedented in human history. This is disastrous for nature and therefore ourselves. Biodiversity loss is just as important as climate change and we need to do all we can to counteract this by saving endangered species and focusing on conservation efforts to increase biodiversity on our planet.
Wildlife supports healthy ecosystems that we all rely on
You may not be aware but we need towering forests across a third of the lands surface to lock away carbon and keep the climate stable. We need millions of pollinators and billions of soil organisms and megatons of plankton to keep the food we eat in supply. We need strange plants deep in jungles to create our medicine and coral reefs and mangrove swamps to protect the coats we depend upon. Our planets biodiversity provides everything we need for free but it will only do so if there are lots of it and at the moment its falling fast.
Whether in a metropolis such as London or a village in the Amazon rainforest, we depend on the services ecosystems provide, including fresh water, pollination, soil fertility and stability, food and medicine. Ecosystems that are weakened by the loss of biodiversity are less likely to supply those services, especially given the continuously growing human population.
For example, Kenyas Lake Turkana is the worlds largest desert lake, a habitat for a variety of diverse wildlife and a source of food and income for around 300,000 people. Overfishing, reoccurring droughts, varying rainfall patterns and diversions of water to upstream developments are having a tragic effect on biodiversity, declining fishing yields and lower ability to support humans. Without the correct conservation methods, this could be the destiny of several more ecosystems.
In the 1980s conservation researchers Paul R. and Anne Ehrlich explained that species are to ecosystems what rivets are to a plane’s wing. Losing one might not be a disaster, but each loss adds to the likelihood of a devastating problem occurring.
Biodiversity plays a critical part in the fight against climate change
The destruction of forest ecosystems is responsible for 11 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans, so by conserving forests it would stop the release of these gases into the atmosphere. Additionally trees and plants provide us with oxygen and store carbon in their tissue, making it even more necessary to protect them.
Several ecosystems, such as mangroves, are very good at storing carbon and keeping it out of the atmosphere. Forests and wetland ecosystems contribute crucial buffers to extreme storms and flooding related to climate change. These ecosystems are very complex, meaning they function best, and are more resilient to the effects of climate change, when all the pieces of the ecosystem are in place — meaning the biodiversity is intact.
Biodiversity loss increases the risk of virus outbreaks
Around 75 per cent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic. Zoonoses are generated by viruses that jump from animals to humans. If ecosystems are degraded, the natural barriers between them are removed, consequently creating conditions for greater spreads of viruses. As the global wildlife trade advances and development projects continue to grow deeper into tropical forests, humans are increasing their exposure to wild animals and the diseases they may carry.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder of the gravity of biodiversity loss and of our unique interconnection with nature. With COVID-19, we have witnessed the extensive damage that diseases can do, not just to human health, but to the global economy. By protecting biodiversity in our ecosystems, countries could save lives and money, while helping to prevent future pandemics.
Biodiversity is great for the economy
Over half of global gross domestic product, that is $44 trillion, is moderately or highly dependent on nature, according to the World Economic Forum. Billions of people, more than 70 per cent among those living in poverty, depend on natural resources to earn their livelihoods. The dependency of our economies on nature makes them extremely vulnerable to environmental degradation and biodiversity decline.
If the loss of biodiversity continues at the current rate then food, commercial forestry and ecotourism industries could lose US$ 338 billion per year. Around 75% of food crops worldwide depend on animals and insects such as bees to pollinate them however many pollinator populations are declining, putting more than US$ 235 billion of agricultural products at risk.
Biodiversity is an essential part of culture and identity
Species are often integral to religious, cultural and national identities. All major religions include elements of nature and across 142 countries 231 species are formally used as national symbols. Unfortunately, more than one-third of those species are threatened. However the bald eagle and American bison are examples of conservation accomplishments due to their role as national symbols. Ecosystems such as parks and other protected areas also provide recreation and a knowledge resource for visitors, and biodiversity is a frequent source of inspiration for artists and designers.
(Sources: BBC Earth, UN, WWF International, Conservation International)