Biodiversity is the variety of life. It can be studied on many levels, from looking at all of the 8.7 million species on our planet to a specific ecosystem like a patch of woodland.
In this video we are going to look at the importance of biodiversity to humans.
A great biodiversity ensures the stability of ecosystems by reducing the dependence of one species on another for food, shelter and even the maintenance of the physical environment.
Wolves were reintroduced into America’s Yellowstone national park in 1995 to control the growing elk population, which had been over-grazing much of the park. It was phenomenally successful. The introduction of wolves changed the course of the rivers. Tree seedlings had a chance to grow along riverbanks, stabilising the banks and helping to clean the water. The rivers started meandering more and so beavers returned. As did birds to the new trees. One species can make a huge difference on a whole ecosystem.
We would all prefer a lush, green planet with lots of different birds, animals, insects and flowers. Rather than a barren planet. But to really convince people that biodiversity matters, we need to look at the economic value of it.
The World Conservation Union estimates the goods and services provided by ecosystems is about $33 trillion dollars per year. Reduced biodiversity means millions, even billions, of people face a future where food supplies are more vulnerable to pests and disease, freshwater is in short supply and we have no medicines to cure potentially deadly illnesses.
Biodiversity protects water resources. It cleans it, controls the route it takes and stabilises banks thus reducing flooding risks.
Biodiversity also strengthens soil quality, again reducing flood risk and also increasing fertility - thus potential crop yields. We currently take 100 billion kilograms of food from the oceans. If we don’t conserve those supplies, how will we replace those food sources in future?
And what about medicine? Both traditional and modern medicine require biodiversity. So many modern drugs are derived from wild species, such as some painkillers, cardiac drugs, anti-cancer drugs and diabetes treatments. These are the ones we have developed so far. But there are no doubt so many other potentially important species that are yet to be investigated or discovered that could provide us with a hugely important cure or treatment. If we don’t start preventing the loss of biodiversity, we may never have the chance to make that discovery and develop that drug which could save many lives.
Maybe even scarier is that biodiversity loss increases the spread of infectious diseases. In recent years, outbreaks of SARS, Ebola, avian flu and malaria have all been attributed to human impacts on biodiversity. Deforestation reduces mosquito diversity and for some unknown reason the surviving species are the ones that transmit malaria. This also happened with snails that acted as vectors for human diseases. And fruitbats in Malaysia. Deforestation also pushes disease carrying organisms into more regular contact with humans, including bushmeat which introduced HIV-AIDS and more recently Ebola into humans.
Maybe you live in a place that is home to charismatic animal species…
So there you have a few economic reasons for why biodiversity matters. There are of course many, many more reasons so start searching biodiversity on the internet and see what comes up!
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