Education

Biodiversity: why it matters?

First things first: what is biodiversity?

Prior to understanding the importance biodiversity holds, we ought to understand what it is.

Biodiversity – or biological diversity – is the variety of life on Earth, from bacteria and fungi to plants and animals, including gene variation within one species and the diversity of habitats.

In other words, when we speak of biodiversity we are not simply referring to the number of different species there are. The term “biodiversity” comprises three aspects:

  1. Species diversity
  2. Genetic diversity
  3. Ecosystem diversity
Species Diversity

To understand species diversity, we must consider the number of species in a given community, their relative abundance, and the role they play in the community.

So, it is not as simple as counting species. Different species play different roles in a given system. Together, they maintain the system balanced and healthy. Some species have redundant functions. These redundancies are crucial! If one species should fail on its task, another can compensate and the system continues to thrive.

Genetic Diversity

Genetic diversity refers to the variation of the gene pool of one given species. In other words, it measures the differences within the same species, at a DNA level.

Genetic diversity helps a species withstand change. Imagine a given community is struck by a disease. A genetically diverse species is more likely to survive the outbreak, as some individuals might have a genetic variation that gives them an advantage in that scenario.

Ecosystem Diversity

Ecosystem diversity refers to the variability in habitats within a geographic area, and it considers both biotic and abiotic elements, such as temperature, sunlight, humidity, etc.

This type of biodiversity can make a system less susceptible to change, too. Let’s imagine a given dry land is hit by wildfires. Having different types of habitats might help to contain the fire and allow animal species to take refuge.

So, why does it matter?

As we’ve seen from the explanation above, biodiversity is key to maintaining stability.

“Resilience” is the term we are looking at. Even though it has turned into a bit of a buzzword, we can say biodiversity allows a given system to be resilient – to bounce back in the face of change.

As ecosystems lose their diversity, they also lose their capacity to “bounce back”, and hence, to keep providing their so vital ecosystem services.

Another concept that has made its way into the public sphere is the idea of “tipping points” or “points of no return” – a moment in which a system loses its ability to keep its current characteristics, entering a different phase and changing radically.

It is not clear where these tipping points lie. Similarly, there is no certainty of what we will find once they are crossed.

Each peak represents a tipping topping. The further we push, the harder it is for a system (let’s consider the Earth’s system here) to return to its original state. Even though there is no way to know for sure where we presently are, we know that we are getting closer and closer to that “point of no return”.

 

There is one thing we can be sure about – human civilization was built upon a stable climate and prosperous ecosystems. Our survival as a species is deeply linked with the survival and well-being of other species and ecosystems.

“From Agreement to Action: a theme that urges the world to protect biodiversity”

This year’s theme for the International Day of Biological Diversity (which happens yearly on May 22) is “From Agreement to Action”.

It builds upon COP15, and it celebrates what was achieved during the conference while recognizing the urgency to go “from agreement to action”, “from theory to practice”.

As mentioned above, there is no certainty of where ecological collapse lies or what it looks like. On the other hand, there are countless success stories around ecosystem restoration and the consequent revival of important ecosystem functions. This means it is not too late! We can work together to help the planet heal and trust it will keep providing for present and future generations of all beings on Earth.

 

_______

If you want to read more, follow these links:

– “Biodiversity – our strongest natural defense against climate change
– «International Day for Biodiversity 2023: “From Agreement to Action: Build Back Biodiversity”»
– “3 Types of Biodiversity: Overview and Importance
– “Biodiversity Hotspots
– “COP15 ends with landmark biodiversity agreement

 

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