Our Earth is teeming with life: from microscopic bacteria to massive redwood trees to speedy antelope to sluggish turtles. This variability between and within living organisms is called biodiversity. However, studies say that the Earth is now experiencing a massive extinction event. Over the last century, vertebrate species are disappearing 114 times faster than historic rates. More than 28,000 species are threatened with extinction, which is more than a quarter of all life discovered on earth!
Okay, Detective. But what’s the big picture here? Why is biodiversity so important? Biologists say that biodiversity supplies us with TONS of natural services. Ones that technology may never be able to replace:
Biodiversity keeps our ecosystems healthy and boosts productivity. Hmmm…. So what is an ecosystem? It’s a community of living and non-living things (such as water and earth) within a specific geographic area. It’s important our ecosystems remain healthy and biodiverse because they supply us with natural services that technology may never be able to replace:
- Clean air. Did you know the diversity of terrestrial and marine plant life around the world generates the oxygen we breathe? They do it by photosynthesis, which is a process that converts sunlight into energy. Plants also absorb and breakdown the tons of pollutants and carbon dioxide that fuel climate change!
- Clean water. Wetlands are special ecosystems that can clean hazardous materials from the water and soil. Think of it like a purifier! Moreover, roots from healthy forests can also reduce flooding and erosion by absorbing water and preventing sediments and contaminants from affecting water quality.
- Nutrient-rich Soil. Soil is actually rich with biodiversity because there are millions of microbes like algae, fungi, bacteria, and arthropods living in the soil. Certain microbes are decomposers that recycle waste in the ground and turn it back into nutrients. If we didn’t have them, we would be surrounded by mounds and mounds of trash! PEWEE. Others can help nutrients cycle through the soil and provide nitrogen and other essential nutrients for plant health.
- Natural Resources. Diverse ecosystems can supply us with various raw materials such as wood, minerals, and gases that we use for shelter and survival.
Biodiversity supplies us with food. Did you know that one out of every three bites of food you eat is there because of pollinators? That’s because 35% of food crops we consume depend on pollinators to reproduce. Pollinators are critters that transfer pollen from one plant to another and aid in plant reproduction, such as bats, bees, birds, butterflies, beetles, and some small mammals. Because of them, ecosystems thrive and produce more natural resources! Yet, pollution, chemicals, and climate change are decreasing pollinator numbers drastically. Not only do wildlife pollinate our food or protect them from pests by eating them, but they also ARE our food. Hunters and anglers across the country depend on wild resources to sustain their families.
Biodiversity gives us medicine. Through biology and genetic research of diverse fauna, plants, and bacteria across the world, we have frequently made medical breakthroughs, such as asthma and cancer.
Biodiversity provides resilience. Every species has their own role to play in the functioning of an ecosystem. But if one is removed, it could cause the entire ecosystem to collapse! Think of biodiversity like a Jenga tower or a house of cards … The more blocks or cards you remove, the more likely it will fall apart. So the more diversity of species or genetics you have within an ecosystem, the more resilient that ecosystem will be. Especially to a natural disaster such as a fires, floods, or disease blowing through the area.
After looking at all the facts, obviously biodiversity is very important to our survival. But the massive declines in biodiversity is mainly due to one mammal species – humans. Oh boy … our humans’ abilities to use tools and technology have made our species the top predator in all the animal kingdom! But our industrial way-of-life has negatively impacted our planet’s biodiversity through climate change, pollution, and habitat loss. Eight-five percent of all the threatened species listed by the IUCN are impacted through habitat loss from the cutting of forests and growth of cities and agriculture.
But thankfully, there are environmental and vegetation managers who actively protect the “environmental citizens” in our ecosystems. To find out how these managers help our technological world co-exist with the natural world, have a looksee at the video above. And if you download the lesson activity or poke around the “Learn More” tab, you will find more pathways to becoming a better environmental steward.