What is biodiversity and how are humans impacting it? Is maintaining biodiversity essential for human sustainability?
What can be done to maintain today's current biodiversity levels?
"Biodiversity" is often defined as the variety of all forms of life, from genes to species, through to the broad scale of ecosystems (for a list of variants on this simple definition see Gaston 1996). "Biodiversity" was coined as a contraction of "biological diversity" in 1985, but the new term arguably has taken on a meaning and import all its own. A symposium in 1986, and the follow-up book BioDiversity (Wilson 1988), edited by biologist E. O. Wilson, heralded the popularity of this concept. Ten years later, Takacs (1996, p.39) described its ascent this way: "in 1988, biodiversity did not appear as a keyword in Biological Abstracts, and biological diversity appeared once. In 1993, biodiversity appeared seventy-two times, and biological diversity nineteen times". Ten years further on, it would be hard to count how many times "biodiversity" is used every day by scientists, policy-makers, and others. While the history of this term is relatively short (compare it to other terms covered in this encyclopedia), it already has raised important, distinctive, philosophical issues. Some of these are entangled in the very definition of "biodiversity", an issue treated in the first sections below. A challenge is the reconciliation of process-based and elements-based perspectives on biodiversity. Overall, the major issue for biodiversity is how its conservation may be integrated with other needs of society.
A diverse ecosystem is important. Biodiversity actually boosts ecosystem productivity where each species, no matter how small, all have an important role to play. It is this combination that enables the ecosystem to possess the ability to prevent and recover from a variety of disasters.
This is obviously useful for mankind as a larger number of plant species means a greater variety of crops. In addition, a larger number of species of animals ensures that the ecosystem is naturally sustained. And so, while we dominate this planet, we still need to preserve the diversity in wildlife.
A healthy biodiversity offers many natural services
A healthy biodiversity provides a number of natural services for everyone:
* Ecosystem services, such as
o Protection of water resources
o Soils formation and protection
o Nutrient storage and recycling
o Pollution breakdown and absorption
o Contribution to climate stability
o Maintenance of ecosystems
o Recovery from unpredictable events
* Biological resources, such as
o Medicinal resources and pharmaceutical drugs
o Wood products
o Ornamental plants
o Breeding stocks, population reservoirs
o Future resources
o Diversity in genes, species and ecosystems
* Social benefits, such as
o Research, education and monitoring
o Recreation and tourism
o Cultural values
That is quite a lot of services we get for free! Now, as we erode ecosystems and reduce biodiversity, based on the above list of things we start to lose, the cost of replacing these (if possible) would be extremely expensive. It therefore makes economic and development sense to move towards sustainability.
A report from Nature magazine also explains that genetic diversity helps to prevent the chances of extinction in the wild (and claims to have shown proof of this). To prevent the well known and well documented problems of genetic defects caused by in-breeding, species need a variety of genes to ensure ...
This explains what biodiversity is and how humans are impacted by it.