A Decrease in Biodiversity: Should We Be Alarmed

I. Definition Biodiversity is defined in Wikipedia as the degree of variation of life forms within a given species, ecosystem, biome, or an entire planet. Because of this, the biodiversity of an ecosystem is a measure of that ecosystem’s health. Biodiversity is not evenly distributed; the biodiversity of one area of the globe may be completely different from that of another. The diversity of all living organisms relies greatly upon the temperature, amount of precipitation, the altitude, the soil, geography and the presence of other species.

Tropical regions usually have a richer biodiversity whereas Polar Regions support fewer species. Rain forests that have had wet climates for considerable amount of time have particularly high biodiversity. Generally speaking, the biodiversity from the poles to the tropics increase. Therefore areas at lower altitudes have a richer biodiversity than zones located in higher altitudes. Several ecological factors may contribute to the biodiversity slope, but the most important factor behind is the greater mean temperature at the equator compared to that of the poles. A biodiversity hotspot is a region with a high level of endemic species, or species that are exclusively found in that area that is under threat from humans. Although there are biodiversity hotspots throughout the world, the majority of them are forested areas and are mostly located in the tropics.

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Rapid environmental changes typically cause mass extinctions. Since life began on Earth, five major mass extinctions and several minor events have led to large and sudden drops in biodiversity. The Phanerozoic eon marked a rapid growth in biodiversity via the Cambrian explosion—a period during which the majority of multicellular phyla first appeared. The next 400 million years included repeated, massive biodiversity losses classified as mass extinction events. In the Carboniferous rainforest collapse led to a great loss of plant and animal life. The Permian–Triassic extinction event, 251 million years ago, was the worst; vertebrate recovery took 30 million years.

The most recent, the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, occurred 65 million years ago and has often attracted more attention than others because it resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs. (Wikipedia) Since the emergence of humans, there is an ongoing reduction in biodiversity and an associated genetic diversity loss. This has been noted as the Holocene extinciton. This phenomenon is also often referred to as the 6th extinction crisis, after the 5 known mass extinction phenomena in geological history. The reduction is primarily cause by human activities, predominantly habitat destruction. Equally, biodiversity impacts human activity and existence in a number of ways.

II. Importance of Biodiversity The term “Biodiversity” may not be well known or understood, the ecological services provided by biodiversity are essential to everyday life. On every aspect of our lives, we depend directly or not on biodiversity for survival. Biological diversity is the resource upon which families, communities, nations and future generations depend. It is the link between all organisms on earth, binding each into an interdependent ecosystem, in which all species have their role. It is the web of life. The Earth’s natural assets are made up of plants, animals, land, water, the atmosphere and humans.

Together we all form part of the planet’s ecosystems, which means if there is a biodiversity crisis, the health and livelihoods of man are at risk too. The oxygen in the atmosphere is a by-product of photosynthesizing plants. Insects, worms, bacteria and other microorganisms break down wastes and aid in the decomposition of deceased plants and animals which helps in enriching the soil. 100% of the food that humans eat comes from plants and animals. Fishes are a primary source of food. Medicines are also developed from plants and animals.

Small Insects like butterflies and bees pollinate the flowers of fruit bearing trees and other essential crops. Biodiversity’s relevance to human health is becoming an international political issue, as scientific evidence builds on the global health implications of biodiversity loss. Many of the anticipated health risks of climate change are associated with changes in biodiversity. Changes in populations and distribution of disease vectors, scarcity of fresh water and impacts on agricultural biodiversity and food resources are some possible problems interlinked between the two issues. This is because the species most likely to disappear are those that buffer against infectious disease transmission, while surviving species tend to be the ones that increase disease transmission.

Some people may see biodiversity as a joke. They have this mentality where they perceive that one plant or animal species is irrelevant and unimportant since there are a myriad of other species ready to take its place. Or maybe they believe that it is quite impossible for a species to actually be extinct because there would always be one or two hundred more of them hiding in the jungles just waiting to be caught. In effect, they would not really care about where their fur coats, their alligator skin bags and shoes, their gorilla hand ashtrays would come from. It is rather unfortunate how humans, the sentient beings of the Earth, act like they own everything else in it.

How they are “permitted” to do whatever it is that they want to defenceless and speechless animals just because they are more powerful and are more highly advanced than the rest. But despite man’s seemingly perfect ideas, the things that they do and the adverse effects that it produces, will someday one way or another come right back around. We are currently using 25% more natural resources than the planet can sustain As a result, species, habitats and local communities are under pressure or direct threats. Reduced biodiversity means millions of people face a future where food supplies are more vulnerable to pests and disease, and where fresh water is in irregular or short supply.

III. A Decrease in Biodiversity How many species are we losing? Well according to WWF.org, we don’t know exactly how much we’re losing if we don’t know how much there is to begin with. Although the approximated extinction rate is just about 0.01%/year, if let’s say there are about 100 Million species on Earth, then at least 10,000 species go extinct every year. The rapid loss of species are estimated to be between 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate, which is the rate of species extinction that would occur if humans were nonexistent. Several factors are involved in the extinction of animal species ranging from dinosaurs to frogs. Some of them suffered mass-extinction, while others were subjected to extinction because of human destructive activities. Global warming, habitat loss, hunting, poaching, deforestation, and several other man-made factors have directly or indirectly affected animals.

Deforestation has caused habitat loss to the animals, and has created a shortage of food in the form of declining numbers of their prey. Rapid industrialization and the emission of greenhouse gases have caused global warming. The climate change has affected about 100 to 200 species of animals, and about 70 species of frogs have become extinct. The threat due to global warming is going to become more intense in future. Moreover, extensive hunting and poaching of animals for economic gains have led many animal species to become extinct. In addition to it, diseases, threat from predators, competition for food, genetic and demographic phenomena are some of the other factors that have caused the extinction of plenty of exotic animals. Extinction decreases biodiversity.

A decrease in biodiversity can have minor to major effects towards man. Less diversity in fish would make fisheries yield less stable. Crops and fodder yield would also decrease if we have less diversity in plants. Less diversity in herbivorous insect pests would produce more persistent pests. Less diversity in plants would increase the prevalance of diseases in plants.

Biodiversity also plays a part in regulating the chemistry of the atmosphere and water supply. It is directly involved in water purification, recycling nutrients and providing fertile soils. The lesser the biodiversity, the more difficult it is for basic ecosystem services to occur.

IV. Conclusion If the government does not make ways for its citizens to be educated, then the Public would not be knowledgeable enough to make assertive choices on their own; Public interest would be lost, as the majority of the general public may not be very well informed therefor would fail to be interested to begin with about the world’s biodiversity, if the public and the government were to undermine the problem, then less people would be interested in investing in researches. Furthermore, if researches to decrease the rate of loss in biodiversity were to fail to produce measurable success, investors in biodiversity research and management would also be discouraged to continue their investments as they would lose faith in these researches.

Unfavorably, researches would be then lessened and environmental institutions would be further weakened and undermined. The public may begin to see loss in biodiversity as inevitable and something that would not directly affect them. Humans may not be able to realize the importance of having diverse ecosystems until the devastating adverse effects were to come. But by then it would already be too late. Similar to the roles of each species in the ecosystem, every element of the scheme plays a distinguished and important role and is completely dependent on the other elements. The loss or collapse of one element may mean the fall of the rest. A domino effect takes place.

In conclusion, we agree in most of the points the director of the UN Environment Program has given. Although for us, it was slightly a bit exaggerated to say political commitment and public interest would be lost. Not immediately at least. We believe that a percentage of the general public still feel somewhat obliged to aid in the program’s efforts. And that the number of people who are actually getting informed and involved in the movement against hunting, poaching and illegal logging, which are human activities that destroy natural habitats, are continuously increasing; especially in an age where communication is so cheap, fast and easy. The Internet mainly social networking sites are wonderful tools to help get more people involved and to get the message across.

If the Program was not able to demonstrate success in the future, then everything the director said may come true, slowly that is. We must all be vigilant with the ever-growing rate of loss in our biodiversity. Humans, as the top of the food chain must ensure the continuance and survival of those below him. We as part of the general mass must be assertive enough to educate ourselves about the crisis we are faced with. Not only that, we must also act and support environmental institutions who aim to protect and preserve the now endangered species as well as to prevent other abundant plant and animal specie from nearing extinction. If we do not do so, mass biological extinction may actually be possible for all forms of life in Earth.

Sources

http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/biodiversity/biodiversity/

http://www.globalissues.org/issue/169/biodiversity

http://news.ku.dk/all_news/2012/2012.1/biodiversity/

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/328/5982/1164.abstract

http://www.worldwatch.org/rapid-biodiversity-loss-continues-absence-political-action-and-accurate-assessments-ecosystem-values

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