Why Biodiversity is Crucial for Life on Earth
Have you heard the phrase, “Don't put all your eggs in one basket”? This is a phrase that sums up what sustainability is getting at when it discusses the importance of diversity. Whether we are talking about gardening, farming, or societal systems, diversity is a key point of discussion – something to be both used and valued. In this article, we'll talk about one crucial type of diversity – biodiversity.
When we talk about the value of diversity, we are really talking not just about the number of different components or constructs in a system but are looking at the overall function of a complex system. In order to see how a system functions, it is important to understand the elements that it contains, but also, crucially, the connections between each of these elements.
When it comes to biodiversity, that means looking not only at the number of plants, animals and other life in an ecosystem, but also the relationships between those species, and how they interact. All life on earth is part of a complex web – with intricate inter-connections and interactions. When we experience losses in the number of natural species in our environments, we don't just lose those species themselves. These losses spiral outwards, and can be felt in much wider and more far-reaching ways.
If we have too few elements, upon which too much pressure has been put, then individual elements can collapse, causing problems throughout the whole system. When, on the other hand, we incorporate a diverse range of living components and solutions, and combine them in effective and efficient ways, the system will be more resilient and better able to function in a sustainable way.
Biodiversity Has Intrinsic Value
The richness of life on Earth is one of the most amazing things about this planet we call home.
The more biodiversity is present in a natural or managed system, the more beneficial interactions there are. And the more beneficial interactions there are, the more stable and reliant a system can be.
Preserving and enhancing diversity can lead to a stability of self-regulation and feedback within the natural cycles of change. This form of stability allows biodiverse systems to endure over time and makes them valuable within a sustainable way of life on this planet.
What is more, when it comes to a garden or farm, boosting biodiversity can help the system ensure over time. It can help to ensure that even when something does not go according to plan, other things will thrive. So though some elements may fail, the whole system is far more likely to endure.
More than this, however, biodiverse and abundant, beneficially connected systems are valuable to use for their intrinsic elegance and beauty. Biodiversity loss is a massive problem in today's world. We risk passing down a world to future generations that is a far less rich, beautiful and abundant place.
The loss of species from our natural environments means the loss not only of those individual species, but also potentially the loss of the natural systems and cycles that allow for all life on earth.
Biodiversity is Crucial for Humanity
It is recognised that preserving and enhancing biodiversity is vital to our continued survival on this planet. As mentioned above, biodiversity in a system is a good which can have intrinsic value in its own right, leading to system stability when the number of beneficial interactions in an ecosystem are increased. But it is also crucial for the survival of humanity.
Species abundance is down by 60% since 1970. In the human food chain, biodiversity loss is affecting health and socio-economic development. There are major implications for well-being, productivity and even regional security.
Micronutrient malnutrition affects as many as 2 billion people globally and nearly half of the world's plant-based calories are provided by just three crops – rice, wheat and maize. Climate change compounds the risks. In 2017, climate-related disasters caused acute food insecurity for around 39 million people across 23 countries. Additionally, levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are detrimentally affecting the nutritional composition of staples such as rice and wheat. Losses of biodiversity in our food supply chains leaves the world's population in an extremely vulnerable position.
Many pollinators are facing mass extinction. Numbers of bees and other key pollinators have fallen dramatically in recent years. If we do not do what we can to save them, we risk undermining much food production on this planet, and may face massive ecosystem collapse. As organic gardeners, we can play our role in safeguarding species diversity. We can help keep pollinator numbers up, and safeguard our food growing future – not just for ourselves, but for wider society.
This is just one example. Each and every species has a role to play. Already, as climate change continues to bite, we are seeing the negative effects due to species already lost from our landscapes. For example, the losses of keystone species such as beavers and large predators have left hillsides denuded of trees and vegetation by deer and sheep, and caused flooding and other issues downstream.
And the issues for humanity are set to continue if biodiversity losses continue at their current alarming rate. Each small loss can have truly massive ramifications.
We Must Act To Make Sure Biodiversity Boost Due to Covid 19 is Not Short Lived
One of the silver linings of Covid 19 lockdowns has been the magic of birdsong and wild creatures returning to degraded urban landscapes. Many examples from cities around the world have shown that by staying put at home, people have given wildlife the space to thrive. Many have noted and enjoyed the boost to biodiversity in urban landscapes that this crisis has delivered.
But this silver living will rapidly disappear unless we all begin to do things very differently. Many scientists, academics and environmental campaigners are now shouting from the rooftops to remind governments that we now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, not just to build back but to build back better than before. We have the chance to invest in lasting improvements that can help halt ecosystem collapses and biodiversity losses.
Trillions of dollars will be spent by governments over the next few years as they strive to rebuild national and global economies. It is vital that that cash is well spent. The money must go where it is needed – to halt biodiversity losses, clean our air, and help us all transition to a greener future.
Biodiversity is crucial to all life on this planet. Yet we are losing species at an unprecedented rate. Current plans are not working. Moving forwards, it will be crucial to protect and conserve ecosystems such as wetlands, forests and reefs.
Targets for species specific conservation have shaped policy and shaped efforts at halting species loss worldwide since 2010. But ecosystems themselves are not protected with targets in the same way, even though their health and functions are essential to the processes that sustain all life.
It is vitally important that conservationists and policy makers take a wholistic approach, and understand that biodiversity depends upon fully functional and thriving ecosystems. Scientists have shown, after studying more than 2,800 ecosystems in 100 countries, that 45% were at risk of complete collapse.
If we are to halt the devastating loss of biodiversity on our planet, we must act, and act fast. Our future quite literally depends on it.
What Can Be Done to Halt Biodiversity Losses?
On both a landscape scale, and in our individual gardens, there is a lot we can do to safeguard biodiversity. For example, we can and should:
- Switch to organic growing and food production.
- Protect and attract wildlife in our own gardens. (With planting schemes that are as biodiverse and productive as possible.)
- Protest infrastructure and construction schemes that harm biodiversity.
- Lobby for bans of harmful agricultural and industrial products.
- Reduce plastic use and help tackle the massive plastic waste crisis on our planet.
- Buy organic food and products and aid sustainable organic growers and producers.
- Avoid purchases which perpetuate damaging systems.
- Encourage and take part in reforestation and afforestation schemes.
- Conserve biodiversity hotspots like woodlands, wetlands, meadows, reefs and other land and marine ecosystems.
- Take part in rewilding schemes and play a role in restoring degraded ecosystems.
We can all play a role in protecting and enhancing biodiversity in our own immediate environments, and in the wider world. And it is crucial that we do so for the future of all life on this planet – including our own.