Why is biodiversity so important?

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity is defined as; “The variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.”But what does that actually mean?

Simply put, the biodiversity of an area is measured by the number of different species of plants and animals in that area, and the diversity within those species.

For example the Amazon rainforest has been identified as the most biodiverse area in the world. It contains 16,000 different species of tree alone, and is home to one in ten of every known plant and animal species on earth. The recent documentary on Netflix, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, Our Planet, showcases the importance of biodiversity and how it’s being impacted by devastating climate change.

Why do we need biodiversity?

No species can survive alone, we all rely on other species in an interconnected web. These are called symbiotic relationships. For example we rely on bees to pollinate flowers for many of the foods we eat. If these such connections weaken or break it harms all species in the ecosystem.

Furthermore more biodiverse ecosystems are less susceptible to disaster. If one species is lost in a highly diverse ecosystem then usually other species can fill it’s role. But if there is little diversity entire species can be lost from areas. This is common in farming, single strains of crops are used and all species diversity is bred out so if it is hit by a disease the entire crop can be wiped out.

Did you know up until the 1950s the popular banana crop was called Gros Michel, it had thicker skin so bruised much less than current banana crops. However in the 1950s it was hit by Panama Disease which wiped out crops worldwide, causing farmers to change to the type of bananas we eat today. If there had been more species diversity this would never have happened.

Threats to biodiversity

In the last hundred years biodiversity worldwide has dramatically decreased, with scientists estimating species are dying out at hundreds of times the natural rate. This is due to various aspects of human activity.

Habitat Loss

Vast areas of biodiverse land are cleared for farming, urban development, and logging. Efforts are rarely made to accommodate the species disturbed by this activity, and have put species such as orang-utans on the verge of extinction.

Pesticides and Herbicides

Widely used in farming, these chemicals kill insects and weeds that may damage the crop. They directly harm species such as bees, which are currently endangered, but also effect the surrounding area. Agricultural run-off, consisting of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilisers, filter through the soil into water sources causing havoc for the species there as well.

Poaching

The hunting of endangered animals is a huge problem in some parts of the world. These animals are hunted for reasons such as food delicacies, hunting trophies, and the exotic pet trade. For example some species have been hunted almost to the point of extinction.

What can you do to help?

Try to buy organic food when you can, as it will have been grown without the use of harmful pesticides and herbicides.

Leave harmless weeds such as dandelions in your garden. Single stem flowers are good for insects, especially butterflies and bees.

Donate to charities and animal sanctuaries trying to conserve endangered species.

And lastly, you could try to buy wood and paper based products that have been certified as sustainable so you know they’re not contributing to habitat loss. For example, our bamboo toothbrush subscription postal boxes are PEFC-certified.

Main photo by Shaun Low on Unsplash

Seb Gauthier