When you consider the sheer volume of animal and plant species in the world, from the tiniest single-celled organisms up to the most massive sequoia trees and blue whales—it’s hard not to be amazed by our planet’s biodiversity. And when you consider how all this diversity both supports and is supported by its myriad ecosystems, it’s even more astounding. But what is biodiversity, exactly? And why is it important to preserve it?
What Is Biological Diversity?
The United Nations describes biological diversity as “the variety of life on earth. . . . It is the combination of life forms and their interactions with each other and with the rest of the environment that has made Earth a uniquely habitable place for humans.”
Why Is Biological Diversity Important?
The vast number of species and amazing variety of plants, animals and microorganisms in our world are important for many reasons, including “us.” The fate of humanity is tightly linked to biological diversity, and a large number of supplies essential for human life depend on it, such as:
- Food products
- Fresh water
- Medicinal products
- Timber and fuel
- Breeding stocks
- Fertile soil
In addition, people depend on biological diversity for their livelihoods, especially in such economic sectors as agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism, among others.
- More than 3 billion people currently rely on marine and coastal biodiversity.
- Over 1.6 billion people depend on forests and non-timber forest products.
- Estimates show at least 40% of the world’s economy and 80% of the needs of our poor are derived from biological resources.
Biological diversity also helps to regulate climate, absorb carbon dioxide, control flooding, pollinate crops, purify water and stop erosion. But we have a problem.
Biodiversity Is on the Decline
According to PopulationMatters.org, human development is causing biodiversity to decrease in both extent and variety. Factors such as habitat loss, deforestation, resource exploitation, urbanization, intensive agriculture, pollution and invasive species are all combining to have a devastating impact.
As reported by CNN.com, for example, the World Wide Fund for Nature estimates the number of species in our wildlife population has decreased by 52% overall from 1970 to 2010. But there is hope.
What Can We Do?
Though we have good reasons to be alarmed about the problem of shrinking biodiversity, there is still a lot we can do. You can read and share blogs like this one, and educate your family about the problem and solutions. Be aware of your own impact on the environment and help turn the trend around. Every small, conscious choice will help.
Create awareness around you. Share this video from 2010 International Day of Biodiversity with friends and family.
Buy wood and wood products that come from a sustainable legal sources. Look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label, and if you don’t see it, then ask.
Reduce your paper consumption and use recycled paper. Using 100% recycled paper saves 24 trees per ton of paper!
Choose sustainable fish, avoiding endangered species, like Bluefin Tuna or certain varieties of cod. Look for seafood labeled with the blue MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) logo.
If it’s made from the skin, fur, bone, shell, beak or hooves of an endangered species, don’t buy it.
Shop local to help reduce the environmental effects of transporting food.
Take your bike whenever you can.
Remember the 5 R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose, Refuse.
By halting the loss of biodiversity, we’re investing in all of us!
The Convention on Biological Diversity
Scientific American: Are We Any Closer to Knowing How Many Species There Are on Earth?
UN: International Day for Biological Diversity
National Biodiversity Center
Population Matters: Declining Biodiversity
CNN: World has lost more than half its wildlife in 40 years
WWF: You can help save biodiversity
Marine Conservation Society: North Sea cod – out of the red at last
Convention on Biological Diversity
Forests For All Forever
Video: International Day of Biodiversity