Biodiversity: what is it and why it matters
Biodiversity is a term that has been thrown around a lot in recent years, especially in the context of environmental conservation. But what exactly does the term mean? And why is it so important to our planet and our own well-being? In this blog post, we will dive into the concept of biodiversity and explore why it is crucial for the survival of life on Earth.
What is Biodiversity?
Biodiversity refers to the variety of life on Earth. It encompasses the different species of plants, animals, and microorganisms, as well as the ecosystems they inhabit and the complex relationships between them. Biodiversity also includes the genetic differences within each species, which provide the diversity necessary for evolution and adaptation to changing environmental conditions.
Biodiversity is not just a collection of different species and ecosystems. It is also the result of millions of years of evolution, shaped by natural processes such as mutation, genetic drift, and natural selection. This diversity provides the foundation for life on Earth, and it is what allows us to grow food, purify our air and water, regulate our climate, and enjoy the beauty of nature.
Biodiversity can be classified into three different types: genetic diversity, species diversity, and ecosystem diversity. Let’s take a closer look at each type.
Genetic diversity refers to the variation of genes within a species and between species. This type of diversity is important for maintaining the health and resilience of populations, as it allows them to adapt to changing environmental conditions. For example, crops with a diverse genetic pool are more resistant to diseases and pests and can produce higher yields.
Species diversity refers to the variety of different species that exist within an ecosystem. This includes the number of species, as well as the distribution and abundance of those species. Species diversity is important because it helps to maintain the balance of the ecosystem, as different species play different roles and interact with each other in complex ways.
Ecosystem diversity refers to the variety of different ecosystems that exist, such as forests, wetlands, and oceans. Each ecosystem contains a unique array of species and provides a range of ecological services, such as water purification, soil conservation, and carbon sequestration. Ecosystem diversity is important for maintaining the overall health and resilience of the planet.
Why is biodiversity important?
Biodiversity is essential for the survival of life on Earth for several reasons. Here are only a few:
Ensures ecosystem functioning
Ecosystems are made up of a complex web of interactions between different species, and they depend on biodiversity to function properly. For example, pollinators like bees and butterflies are crucial for the reproduction of many plants, while predators play a vital role in maintaining balance within an ecosystem by controlling the populations of other species. Biodiversity also helps to ensure the stability and resilience of ecosystems, allowing them to respond to and recover from natural disturbances, such as fires, droughts, and floods.
Food, freshwater and medicine
Biodiversity provides us with a wide range of essential services, such as food, clean water, medicine, and wood. For example, many of our crops, including wheat, corn, and rice, depend on pollinators like bees to produce a high yield. The Amazon rainforest, which is one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet, is also a major source of medicinal plants and traditional knowledge used to treat a variety of health conditions.
A biodiverse ecosystem also provides livelihoods and benefits businesses. According to the World Economic Forum, nearly 50% of the world’s GDP (approximately $44 trillion) relies significantly on nature. Thus, many people’s jobs are directly or indirectly dependent on the conservation and future growth of biological diversity.
Source of inspiration
Biodiversity is also a source of inspiration and aesthetic enjoyment, providing us with opportunities to appreciate the beauty of nature and the intricacies of life on planet Earth. Whether it’s watching a butterfly fly from flower to flower, admiring the vivid colors of a tropical reef, or simply enjoying a walk in a forest, biodiversity enriches our lives in countless ways.
6 Threats to biodiversity
Biodiversity is essential for the survival of species, ecosystem functions, and human well-being. However, human activities have led to significant reductions in biodiversity, threatening the stability and resilience of ecosystems. Here are six main threats to biodiversity.
Habitat destruction, degradation, and fragmentation are among the most significant threats to biodiversity. Human activities such as urbanisation, agriculture, and forestry result in the loss and fragmentation of natural habitats, reducing the area available for wildlife and plants. This leads to a decline in biodiversity as species that once lived in a particular area are forced to move or become extinct.
Over-exploitation of species
Overexploitation of species is another major threat to biodiversity. This occurs when species are harvested at a rate that is faster than they can reproduce, leading to their population size declining or even becoming extinct. Overfishing, hunting, and illegal wildlife trade are some examples of overexploitation.
Climate change is a rapidly growing threat to biodiversity as it affects the distribution and abundance of species. Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns alter the timing of seasonal events and disrupt migration patterns, leading to declines in populations. Warmer temperatures also cause species to shift their ranges, leading to range contraction and extinction.
Invasive species, also known as non-native or exotic species, can pose a significant threat to biodiversity. They can outcompete native species for resources, altering the balance of ecosystems and leading to declines in biodiversity. Invasive species can also spread diseases to native species, further reducing their populations.
Pollution, including the release of chemicals, oil spills, and plastic debris, can have devastating effects on biodiversity. These pollutants can accumulate in the food chain, leading to declines in populations of species and even extinction. In addition, plastic debris can cause physical harm to wildlife, including entanglement and ingestion.
Human population growth
As the human population continues to grow, more land is being converted for human use, leading to habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity. Additionally, the growing demand for resources puts increased pressure on ecosystems and species.
The latest on biodiversity
According to The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022, biodiversity conservation efforts are progressing but at pace that is too slow.
- The risk of species extinction is increasing at an unprecedented rate.
- Central and Southern Asia, Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, and small island developing States are at more severe risk.
- The main drivers of declines are unsustainable agriculture and over-harvesting of wild species.
- To conserve biodiversity, key actions are needed, including reversing the net loss of habitat, transforming land management, and transitioning to sustainable agriculture.
- The world’s forest area continues to shrink, mainly due to agricultural expansion.
- The proportion of forests declined from 31.9% in 2000 to 31.2% in 2020, a net loss of 100 million hectares.
- Agricultural expansion is driving almost 90% of global deforestation, including 49.6% from expansion for cropland and 38.5% for livestock grazing.
- Changes in forest area vary by region, with Asia, Europe, and North America showing an overall increase while Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa showed significant losses.
- The felling of forests continues, despite gains in several regions.
- The proportion of forests under a long-term management plan increased from 54% in 2010 to 58% in 2020.
- 18% of forests, over 700 million hectares, were in legally established protected areas in 2020.
- The ocean absorbs around 25% of annual CO2 emissions, altering the carbonate system and increasing acidity.
- This is threatening organisms and ecosystem services, endangering fisheries and aquaculture, and affecting coastal protection.
- Further increases in acidification are expected to accelerate over the coming decades.
Pollution is killing marine life
- More than 17 million metric tons of plastic entered the ocean in 2021, expected to double or triple by 2040.
- Eutrophication caused by nutrient pollution is showing an increasing trend, leading to growing “dead zones”.
Overfishing and illegal fishing continue to kill the ocean
- More than a third of of global stocks were overfished in 2019. Fortunately, the rate of decline of global stocks has recently slowed down.
- Sustainable fishing only accounted for 0.1% of global GBP in 2019.
- Pressure on fish stocks is lowering the contribution of sustainable fisheries to economic growth in some regions.
- Action is needed to support small-scale fishers, many of whose livelihoods have collapsed under the pandemic.
Protection of key biodiversity areas
- Nearly half of areas identified as key for global biodiversity are under protection, but progress is slow in four regions.
- The mean coverage of Key Biodiversity Areas by protected areas increased from over 25% in 2000 to nearly 50% in 2021.
- Four regions still have mean coverage of less than 35% across marine, terrestrial, freshwater, and mountain Key Biodiversity Areas.
- Global coverage of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is 8% of coastal waters and oceans, with recent designations expected to raise it.
- More than 50% of marine key biodiversity areas are still not safeguarded.
National planning processes
- National planning processes are increasingly reflecting the value of biodiversity, but progress is too slow.
- 37% of countries assessed are on track to achieve their national targets, while 58% have made progress but at an insufficient rate, and 5% are making no progress.
- Aichi Biodiversity Target 2 was not met by 2020.
- Building back better from COVID-19 is an opportunity to integrate biodiversity considerations.
- Improved regulations and effective monitoring have been successful in reverting overfished stocks, but adoption has been slow.
Sharing genetic resources
- Global progress is being made on implementing frameworks for the sustainable use of genetic resources.
- 132 countries and the EU have ratified the Nagoya Protocol for fair and equitable sharing of benefits.
- The number of contracting parties to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture grew to 148 from 135 in 2015.
How can we protect biodiversity?
Biodiversity loss is a growing global concern and it is crucial that we take action to protect and conserve it. Here are key strategies and solutions for protecting biodiversity.
Implementing conservation measures
- Protected areas. Setting aside areas for the protection of ecosystems and wildlife, such as national parks and nature reserves, is one of the most effective ways to conserve biodiversity. These areas provide critical habitats for species and protect them from human activities that can cause harm.
- Restoration of habitats. Restoring damaged or destroyed habitats, such as forests, wetlands, and grasslands, can help increase biodiversity. This includes removing invasive species, planting native vegetation, and protecting habitats from further destruction.
- Species recovery programs. Species recovery programs aim to restore populations of threatened or endangered species by protecting and managing their habitats, controlling populations of invasive species, and supporting breeding and reintroduction programs.
Regulating human activities
- Sustainable use of natural resources. Ensuring that natural resources are used in a sustainable manner is critical for the conservation of biodiversity. This includes responsible fishing practices, responsible forestry management, and controlling the spread of invasive species.
- Climate change mitigation. Climate change is a major threat to biodiversity and reducing greenhouse gas emissions is crucial for protecting it. This includes reducing deforestation and promoting the use of renewable energy sources.
- Sustainable agricultural practices. Agricultural practices can have a major impact on biodiversity, both positive and negative. Encouraging sustainable agricultural practices, such as agroforestry, conservation tillage, and integrated pest management, can help reduce the negative impact of agriculture on biodiversity.
Raising awareness and improving education
- Public education. Raising awareness and educating the public about the importance of biodiversity and the threats it faces is critical for achieving conservation goals. This can include educational programs, outreach campaigns, and engaging with local communities.
- Corporate social responsibility. Encouraging corporations to take a more responsible approach to their impact on the environment and biodiversity is important. This includes implementing sustainable business practices, reducing waste and emissions, and supporting conservation initiatives.
Supporting research and monitoring
- Scientific research. Scientific research is critical for understanding the complexities of biodiversity and developing effective conservation strategies. This includes studies on the biology and ecology of species, the functioning of ecosystems, and the impact of human activities on biodiversity.
- Monitoring and evaluation. Regular monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of conservation efforts is important for ensuring that they are achieving their goals and for making adjustments where necessary.
Implementing these strategies and solutions at local, national, and international levels will require the cooperation and collaboration of governments, NGOs, communities, and individuals. It is important that we take action now to protect biodiversity, as the loss of even a single species can have cascading effects on the health of ecosystems and everything they provide.
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- United Nations Sustainable Development
- United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
- World Wildlife Fund
- The Conservation International
- International Union for Conservation of Nature
- Convention on Biological Diversity
- The Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and What it Means for Business, World Economic Forum