The Importance of Biodiversity: How Losing Species Affects Our Planet

The Importance of Biodiversity: How Losing Species Affects Our Planet

After all, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we consume rely on biodiversity, but it is now in crisis because of us. 

The main conclusion of the regional reports is disappointing: pressure on biodiversity, and the resulting loss of biodiversity, continues to grow in all regions. If unchecked, this loss will affect nature’s ability to sustain people and the planet. 

The report mentions that the Central Asian region is in the most favorable condition, but this assessment is relative. It also cites the fact that 42% of terrestrial plants and animal species have disappeared in the European-Central Asian region in the last decade, and wetlands have halved in the last half century. 

What does this mean for our future and can we stop it?

What Do We Know About Biodiversity?

Biodiversity is the variety of life on Earth in all its forms and in all its interactions.  

Does that sound pretty broad? 

That’s because it is, since biodiversity is the most complex feature of our planet. 

Biodiversity consists of several levels: from the genetic level to the level of individuals, then communities of creatures, and finally entire ecosystems, such as mangroves or coral reefs, where life interacts with the physical environment. 

But species diversity concerns all living things that now live on Earth, including plants, bacteria, animals and humans. And that’s only 2% of all species that have ever existed. The other 98% of species are already extinct.

Earth’s biosphere ensures our full and healthy lives. And here’s why:

  • Biodiversity fulfills the nutritional needs of humankind. Through the availability of different species, people can obtain resources and food to sustain their well-being. Although 80% of the food supply comes from 20 plant species, humans use 40,000 species to produce food, clothing, and shelter.
  • Because of biodiversity, scientists have made significant advances in medical discoveries and have found cures for many diseases. More than half of vaccines and medicines are of natural origin. Medicines derived from components of nature are used by more than 80% of the world’s population.
  • The diversity of biological species also influences cultural values, as it serves as a source of inspiration for artists and painters. Animal and plant species are inseparable parts of religious, cultural and national identities. All major religions incorporate elements of nature, and 231 species are officially used as national symbols in 142 countries.

What Is the Problem?

We are living in the Anthropocene era: over the last century, humans have come to dominate the planet, contributing to rapid changes in ecosystems and massive losses of species populations across the planet. 

While the Earth has always experienced change and extinctions, today they are occurring at an unprecedented rate. 

Therefore, modern biodiversity loss is closely linked to human activities. The main anthropogenic causes of species extinction are:

  • Habitat destruction, that is, the disappearance or alteration of conditions necessary for the survival of animals and plants. This affects not only individual species, but also the state of the global ecosystem. Approximately 15 billion trees are cut down each year. More than 80% of the world’s forest species lose their natural habitat and reduce food resources. Species that cannot migrate simply become extinct.
  • Overutilization, that is, the unstable use of natural resources that exceeds their ability to regenerate. Excessive hunting, fishing, and grazing are all examples of this phenomenon. One third of vertebrate species have been threatened with extinction precisely because of overexploitation. 
  • Climate change due to global warming caused by the use of fossil fuels by industry and other human activities. The burning of combustible minerals releases greenhouse gases that increase the absorption of heat energy and trap heat in the atmosphere, affecting temperature and precipitation patterns.

Traditionally, other reasons have been cited, such as the expansion of human settlements and the conversion of natural landscapes into agricultural facilities; the construction of roads and other communications; poaching and environmental disasters caused by humans.

And regional assessments by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), published in March this year, show that the main pressures on biodiversity continue to be habitat change, climate change, invasive alien species, pollution and unsustainable use.

But climate change is one of the most serious threats to the planet’s biodiversity today. The situation is aggravated by the fact that the role of climate change, as a global mechanism causing negative changes, will constantly increase in the next decades.

How Climate Change Is Affecting the Planet’s Biodiversity

Climate change is now recognized as the main cause of biodiversity decline. According to the UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment synthesis report, climate change will have a significant and increasing impact on biodiversity decline by the end of the century: melting glaciers and permafrost, extreme weather events, rising sea levels and ocean acidification will have a devastating impact on habitats for living organisms.

According to a recent study by the University of Toronto, a quarter of all plant and vertebrate species could disappear from the face of the earth by 2050 as a result of climate change. The main cause is habitat loss.

Braulio F. de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biodiversity, welcoming the Paris Agreement in December 2015, said, “Species and ecosystems on the planet are already being affected by a change in temperature regimes that has increased by about 1°C. The difference between the new, 1.5-degree temperature rise threshold and the previously adopted 2-degree threshold will be huge for biodiversity, especially for the most vulnerable ecosystems such as coral reefs, mountains and polar regions.”

Success Formula: Biodiversity Conservation + Adaptation and Mitigation

The natural environment around us is an intelligent and resilient system. Living organisms – and humans as part of the system – adapt flexibly to negative changes. Even to changes as rapid and as global as climate change caused by human activity. Living organisms try to adapt to them: they change habitats or life cycles, develop various physical features that help them adapt and survive.

Humankind is being given another chance and tool to adapt to and mitigate climate change. And that tool is biodiversity! The diversity of life in all its manifestations. In all the complexity of the biological system and the diverse quality of its components.

How does this tool work? For example, we know that 20% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions are caused by deforestation. But if people actively protect and restore forests, they can reduce CO2 emissions. Conserved or restored ecosystems can “work as carbon stores” because they can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Mangroves and coral reefs mitigate the effects of climate change such as floods and storms, which means the challenge for humans is to conserve these ecosystems! And if we adopt adaptation programs in agriculture and start growing drought-resistant crops in time, we can solve the global hunger problem.

Biodiversity today is a key factor in human survival. A study by scientists at the Smithsonian Institution says that the more diverse fish species in a marine ecosystem, the more resilient it is to temperature spikes and able to reproduce actively. Today, fish is the main source of protein for billions of people (according to FAO, 40 times more animal biomass is extracted from the world’s oceans than from land), which means that it is in the interests of man to preserve the biodiversity of the world’s oceans.

Conservation of existing ecosystems and restoration of damaged ones is necessary to achieve the overall goals of both the Convention on Biodiversity and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. And the ecosystem approach must become key to climate change strategies. There are already practices in place to increase the adaptive capacity of species and ecosystems in the face of increasing climate change, such as coastal protection through restoration and protection of wetlands, sustainable management of wetlands and floodplains, forest protection and plantation, creation of diverse agroforestry systems, and protection of agricultural biodiversity. And if humans are willing and able to use an ecosystem approach, the planet’s biodiversity will become a major help in the fight against climate change and an important tool for humanity’s own survival and prosperity.

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