Why Is Biodiversity Important? Who Cares?
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- This page: http://www.globalissues.org/article/170/why-is-biodiversity-important-who-cares.
- To print all information (e.g. expanded side notes, shows alternative links), use the print version:
This web page has the following sub-sections:
- What is Biodiversity?
- Why is Biodiversity Important?
- A healthy biodiversity offers many natural services
- Species depend on each other
- Biodiversity providing lessons for scientists in engineering
- More important than human use or biological interest
- Putting an economic value on biodiversity
- More information
What is Biodiversity?
The variety of life on Earth, its biological diversity is commonly referred to as biodiversity.
The number of species of plants, animals, and microorganisms, the enormous diversity of genes in these species, the different ecosystems on the planet, such as deserts, rainforests and coral reefs are all part of a biologically diverse Earth.
Appropriate conservation and sustainable development strategies attempt to recognize this as being integral to any approach to preserving biodiversity. Almost all cultures have their roots in our biological diversity in some way or form.
Declining biodiversity is therefore a concern for many reasons.
Why is Biodiversity Important?
Biodiversity boosts ecosystem productivity where each species, no matter how small, all have an important role to play.
- A larger number of plant species means a greater variety of crops
- Greater species diversity ensures natural sustainability for all life forms
- Healthy ecosystems can better withstand and recover from a variety of disasters.
And so, while we dominate this planet, we still need to preserve the diversity in wildlife.
A healthy biodiversity offers many natural services
A healthy biodiversity provides a number of natural services for everyone:
- Ecosystem services, such as
- Protection of water resources
- Soils formation and protection
- Nutrient storage and recycling
- Pollution breakdown and absorption
- Contribution to climate stability
- Maintenance of ecosystems
- Recovery from unpredictable events
- Biological resources, such as
- Medicinal resources and pharmaceutical drugs
- Wood products
- Ornamental plants
- Breeding stocks, population reservoirs
- Future resources
- Diversity in genes, species and ecosystems
- Social benefits, such as
- Research, education and monitoring
- Recreation and tourism
- Cultural values
That is quite a lot of services we get for free!
The cost of replacing these (if possible) would be extremely expensive. It therefore makes economic and development sense to move towards sustainability.
A report from Nature magazine also explains that genetic diversity helps to prevent the chances of extinction in the wild (and claims to have shown proof of this).
To prevent the well known and well documented problems of genetic defects caused by in-breeding, species need a variety of genes to ensure successful survival. Without this, the chances of extinction increases.
And as we start destroying, reducing and isolating habitats, the chances for interaction from species with a large gene pool decreases. Side NoteUnfortunately the original link to the Nature.com article no longer works, since their site redesign, and I had not noted the publication details. However, for similar information, you could look at Consequences of changing biodiversity, Nature 405, 234 - 242, 11 May 2000 and Causes, consequences and ethics of biodiversity, Nature 405, 208–211, 11 May 2000.
Species depend on each other
While there might be “survival of the fittest” within a given species, each species depends on the services provided by other species to ensure survival. It is a type of cooperation based on mutual survival and is often what a “balanced ecosystem” refers to.
Soil, bacteria, plants; the Nitrogen Cycle
As an example, consider all the species of animals and organisms involved in a simple field used in agriculture. As summarized from Vandana Shiva, Stolen Harvest (South End Press, 2000), pp 61–62:
- Crop byproducts feed cattle
- Cattle waste feeds the soil that nourish the crops
- Crops, as well as yielding grain also yield straw
- Straw provides organic matter and fodder
- Crops are therefore food sources for humans and animals
- Soil organisms also benefit from crops
- Bacteria feed on the cellulose fibers of straw that farmers return to the soil
- Amoebas feed on bacteria making lignite fibers available for uptake by plants
- Algae provide organic matter and serve as natural nitrogen fixers
- Rodents that bore under the fields aerate the soil and improve its water-holding capacity
- Spiders, centipedes and insects grind organic matter from the surface soil and leave behind enriched droppings.
- Earthworms contribute to soil fertility
- They provide aerage, drainage and maintain soil structure.
- According to Charles Darwin, “It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of creatures.”
- The earthworm is like a natural tractor, fertilizer factory and dam, combined!
- Industrial-farming techniques would deprive these diverse species of food sources and instead assault them with chemicals, destroying the rich biodiversity in the soil and with it the basis for the renewal of the soil fertility.
Shiva, a prominent Indian scientist and activist goes on to detail the costs associated with destroying this natural diversity and traditional farming techniques which recognize this, and replacing this with industrial processes which go against the nature of diversity sustainability.
Bees: crucial agricultural workers
Bees provide enormous benefits for humankind as another example.
As reported by CNN (May 5, 2000), “One third of all our food—fruits and vegetables—would not exist without pollinators visiting flowers. But honeybees, the primary species that fertilizes food-producing plants, have suffered dramatic declines in recent years, mostly from afflictions introduced by humans.”
Interdependent marine ecosystem
Interdependency vs Human Intervention
More important than human use or biological interest
Many people may support environmental causes to help preserve the “beauty” of Nature. However, that is in a strange way, not really a justifiable excuse as it is a subjective, human or anthropomorphasized view.
For many decades, various environmentalists, biologists and other scientists, have viewed the entire earth as a massive living organism or system due to the interdependent nature of all species within it. Some cultures have recognized this kind of inter-relationship for a very long time. Some have termed this Gaia.
While there are disagreements and differences on how this works, it suggests that ecological balance and biodiversity are crucial for all of earth, not just humans.
Putting an economic value on biodiversity
For more information on this question, visit some of the following links
- Scientific American Magazine provides an answer to a reader’s question: “What is the point in preserving endangered species that have no practical use to humans, apart from their aesthetic appeal or their intellectual interest to biologists?”
- The WWF also have sections on species and on biodiversity.
- Biodiversity: A Matter of Extinction is a briefing from Panos that highlights the problems that have led to an increasingly alarming rate extinctions, this century alone. Although from 1995, it shows how far back the problem was known (and one can infer that we haven’t therefore done much about the problem since).
- The World Conservation Monitor has sections on biodiversity indicators and biodiversity assessments.
- Biodiversity and its Value from the Department of the Environment and Heritage, Australia, provides many good insights.
- “Why Conserve Species” from Nature Magazine provides a good answer to this question. (Unfortunately, since their site redesign, this URL is no longer valid, and to date a new URL cannot be found.)
- “Life on the Brink” from Earth Magazine, (Kalmbach Publishing Company), April 97 edition, delivers a very interesting answer to why biodiversity is important. (Unfortunately they no longer publish this magazine so the article is no longer online.)
- Why Is Biodiversity Important? Who Cares?
- Loss of Biodiversity and Extinctions
- Nature and Animal Conservation
- Climate Change Affects Biodiversity
- Coral Reefs
- Addressing Biodiversity Loss
- Biosafety Protocol 1999
- Biosafety Protocol 2000
- Biodiversity Links for more Information
- Climate Change and Global Warming Introduction
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