Day 8: Biodiversity
Humans are becoming ever more dominant in the natural world and unfortunately, we often expand at the expense of the planet’s biodiversity. Although it is difficult to determine to any degree of accuracy, a number of scientists claim we are in the middle of the 6th mass extinction era caused predominately by human activity. The rapid loss of species we are seeing today is estimated by experts to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times more than the naturally occurring extinction rate. Habitat destruction, introduction of invasive species, over exploitation, agricultural mono cultures and latterly man-made climate change are compounding problems which are creating this crisis. In fact, all the creatures featured in our north pole illustration above are endangered species – yes even Santa’s reindeers.
Linking the issue of biodiversity loss to COP21 negotiations and debates, we see that climate change, including changes in temperature and increases in the number of extreme weather events, will heavily impact ecosystems and the biodiversity they provide habitats for. Even a small change in temperature can influence breeding cycles, habitat range, and food availability for species and therefore, the biodiversity of the planet could be the first victim of failing to reach a deal in Paris this COPmas.
What eco actions can we take?
Although over half of the world’s human population live in cities and other urban areas with, you could argue, a limited amount of contact with the wider biodiversity the planet has to offer, there are still many actions we can all take to do our bit to help preserve ecosystems and the biodiversity found within them.
Citizens: There is much that can be done on the part of individuals to protect biodiversity. Buying Rainforest Alliance Certified products can help towards reducing your personal impact on rainforest biodiversity. Not buying souvenirs on holiday that are made from the skin, fur, bone, beak, shell or hooves of an endangered species. Using 100% recycled paper, as this saves 24 trees per tonne of paper and can help towards slowing habitat destruction in forested areas. Buying organic food helps reduce inputs of fertilizers and pesticides into the environment, which in turn reduces negative impacts on nearby beneficial insects (for pollination and pest control) and any adjacent aquatic biodiversity.
Civil Society: Get involved with ecological restoration in your area, wherever you may live. Most areas have local interest groups active in restoration of some kind. By volunteering you can help restore habitat for native species and eliminate invasive species, all while learning something about your local plants and animals and getting active, out in the fresh air.
Corporates: Nowadays 75% of the world’s fisheries are fully or over exploited. Around 80% of the world’s biodiversity is found underwater, so the fishing industry and retailers and supermarkets have an important role to play in marine biodiversity protection. Reducing by-kill (animals caught by accident in fishing gear; species that the fishers do not intend to catch) in fish harvesting is vital to creating sustainable marine diversity. For office based companies, how about introducing a volunteering scheme that allows your employees to volunteer in their local environments, helping with waterway clean-ups and restoration of local habitats.
Blog post: Diversity matters!
Biodiversity – short for biological diversity – means the diversity of life in all its forms – the diversity of species, of genetic variations within one species, and of ecosystems. How then does biodiversity loss affect us? Well, biological diversity is the resource upon which individuals, families, communities, nations and future generations depend. Which means if there is a biodiversity crisis, a large number of our natural assets will be affected, as they are, ultimately all part of the same global system – the web of life. A crisis of this sort would affect our health, livelihoods and economy. Not to mention the aesthetic value we draw from the beauty of flora and fauna biodiversity.
The current situation 12,259 species are known by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature, the World Conservation Body), to be threatened with extinction. The IUCN keeps the world’s inventory of the conservation status of animals and plants, compiling data from thousands of scientists and conservationists worldwide. However, the twelve thousand odd threatened species are only the tip of the iceberg. Nobody knows exactly how many species there are on Earth, let alone how they are doing or an exact rate of extinction. The total number of recorded living species is around 1.75 million, but more than two thirds are insects and other invertebrates, which are extremely difficult to monitor. We do know however, that the extinction rate is increasing due to human activity.
Causes of biodiversity loss The causes of biodiversity loss vary in different parts of the world, as well as between flora and fauna, but all of them ultimately come back to the expansion of human influence over the natural world. Habitat destruction and land use change due to urbanisation and agriculture are powerful forces which have had severe consequences for plant and animal life. For example, deforestation and crop monoculture is seen extensively in the Amazon rainforest and has resulted already in a huge drop in species richness. The Amazon is pertinent example because it is so rich in biodiversity, you can find more species in one acre in the amazon than in the whole of the UK, but we see large sections of the rainforest destroyed already and with it plant and animal species, many of which we are still ignorant of their potential beneficial uses.
Marine biodiversity is also suffering from harmful chemicals getting into waterways up-stream, causing dead zones in the ocean from nitrogen overloading, leading to a eutrophication effect. Untreated sewage, of both animal and human, is also a problem for water species and a growing concern are pharmaceuticals and hormones polluting water sources and changing the animal’s functions and hormone balance. The introduction of invasive species into new habitats can overwhelm endemic species and then thrive, resulting in loss of the natural order. Another human action which swings the balance of nature past the tipping point for biodiversity survival is over exploitation. Over exploitation occurs when a resource is consumed at an unsustainable rate, either because of over hunting, poor soil conservation or illegal wildlife trade. Fisheries are a classic example of this. A quarter of the world’s fisheries are over fished, meaning we are harvesting fish faster than the natural replenishing rate.
Looking at flora biodiversity, human created mono cultures are presenting new challenges for plants. Presently, only about 30 crops provide 95% of human food energy needs, four of which (rice, wheat, maize and potato) are responsible for more than 60% of our energy intake. Due to the dependency on this relatively small number of crops for global food security, it is easy to see how mono cultures help to wipe out the diversity of plant life at an increasing rate.
Positive action The good news is there are many actions we can do as individuals to protect biodiversity, and there are also many organisations who campaign around this issue too. For example, our partners for today, the Eden Project, an educational charity and a visitor destination in Cornwall, UK. The Eden Project is home to the world’s largest rainforest outside of its natural habitat, the Eden Project powerfully communicates our dependency on nature and the importance of biodiversity. A visit to Eden’s Rainforest Biome, as well as the Mediterranean Biome, provides you with an unforgettable ‘immersive’ experience of these environments, their plants and their uses.
Other solutions, from a more top-down, economically driven approach, suggest putting a monetary value to the services that ecosystems provide to humans, in order to ensure governments and corporates appreciate their full value. Over the last 25 years the EU has built up a vast network of 26.000 protected areas in all the Member States and an area of more than 750.000 km2, which is 18% of the EU’s land area. It is the largest network of protected areas in the world and makes us hopeful that other governments, around the globe, are also prioritising this issue.
Today’s theme was presented by eco action games and our partner the Eden Project.
Visit our partner’s website by clicking on the logo: