What Biodiversity Means to the Planet and to You and Me
By, Devin Lindsley
This past weekend the University of California, Davis had their annual Biodiversity Museum Day. On these occasions, the campus museums open up their doors to the public. Exhibits include but are not limited to the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, Center for Plant Diversity and the Bohart Museum of Entomology. I love volunteering for this event because I get to showcase non-human primate taxidermy as well as talk about the importance of primate diversity within their relevant ecosystems. However, while this years Biodiversity Museum Day greatly showcased diversity, it failed to prioritize the discussion of why biodiversity matters. At the time I knew biodiversity was important, but I couldn’t scrabble up words to explain why. The following is a snapshot of what biodiversity means to the planet and how it affects both you and me.
Understanding the “bio”
Biodiversity can be defined as the variety of life, including variation among genes, species and functional traits within the world or in a particular habitat or ecosystem (Cardinale et al, 2012).
Biodiversity maintains an ecosystems ability to function and prevents ecosystems from tipping into undesired states (Folke, 2004). Having a diverse community of organisms allows for species to specialize in a role. Or, biodiversity allows organisms to influence the ecosystems productivity by having a functional trait that differs from the others. When there is loss of diversity, the structure of that ecosystem and how it functions becomes at risk of being altered. Ecosystem functions, like carbon sequestering and biomass production, respond to changes in biological diversity. As the number of genes, species and functional groups of organisms reduce, the efficiency of the whole community to capture biologically essential resources (like water, light and prey) goes down. Change increases as biodiversity loss increases. Change in biodiversity matters because ecosystem functions are essential to us, and decline as biodiversity is lost. Humans rely on biodiversity for food, medicine, clean air, water, raw materials and ecosystem resilience in order to survive.
Why Biodiversity Matters to Us
A large portion of our food supply is based roughly around 12 plant species. An even larger percentage of global meat production comes from just 15 species of mammals and birds. Yet, our food could not exist without an uncountable amount of other species working together to insure the success of our crops and livestock. Pollinators (bees, other insects, bats and birds) are a great example of this. Wildlife pollinates and protects our food. Having both organism and genetic biodiversity allows for our food system to be resilient against drought and disease. With biodiversity loss, we are at risk of loosing main food supplies both by directly losing crops and their wild counterparts and by indirectly losing the organisms that help them survive.
Furthermore, our health is also affected by biodiversity. A study by Keesing and colleagues in 2010 showed that loss of biodiversity can increase disease transmission in humans. Preserving endemic (native) biodiversity and having an intact ecosystem on the other hand, should generally reduce the prevalence of infectious diseases. Also, biodiversity brings us cures for diseases and ailments. Lianas, found in tropical rainforests, are used for a multitude of medical treatments, acting as a type of painkiller. Drugs commonly used to treat asthma come from the Cacao tree. In fact, lots of medical breakthroughs come from research done on a variety of plants and animals.
Not to mention, humans extract a variety of resources from the surrounding environment. Fuel, lumber, water, clean air and minerals are just some examples of the materials we expect the environment to continuously provide. Once again, biodiversity influences how an ecosystem functions. Loss of diversity puts strain on an ecosystems ability to do its job and therefore this decreases the ecosystems productivity.
Ego or Eco
What are the constraints and stressors on global biodiversity today? What is your role in maintaining it?
Climate change, habitat fragmentation, over fishing and a multitude of poor resource extraction practices followed by irresponsible production and blind consumerism all have a powerful effect on the decline of biodiversity. It’s important to understand where your products come from and whether companies that your wallet supports implement sustainable policies, practices and procedures.
What Biodiversity Means to Me
I am a naturalist at heart. I’ve always loved trekking through nature and watching wildlife. When I was a student with DANTA: Association for the Conservation of the Tropics, I got to experience living in a biodiversity hotspot for the first time. I came to appreciate the intricacies of the rainforest and understand how both resilient and fragile my temporary home was to stressors like climate change and habitat fragmentation. Immersing myself in nature fills the void that living in a boom and bust type of society creates. Diversity within nature has a healing power that is hard to deny. Nature nurtures.
“….it is the peace of the forest that I carry inside” – Jane Goodall
Picture: Smith, Bret. “Species Biodiversity Changing, Not Declining From Global Warming.” Redorbit, 14 May 2014,www.redorbit.com/news/science/1113146150/global-warming-changing-species-biodiversity-05141
Cardinale, Bradley J, et al. “Biodiversity Loss and Its Impact on Humanity.” Nature, vol. 486, 7 June 2012, pp. 59–67., doi:10.1038/nature11148.
Keesing, Felicia, et al. “Impacts of Biodiversity on the Emergence and Transmission of Infectious Diseases.” Nature, vol. 468, no. 7324, 2010, pp. 647–652., doi:10.1038/nature09575.
Regime Shifts, Resilience, and Biodiversity in Ecosystem Management
Carl Folke, Steve Carpenter, Brian Walker, Marten Scheffer, Thomas Elmqvist, Lance Gunderson, C.S. Holling. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 2004 35:1, 557-581