Biodiversity – Everything You Need to Know
Have you ever sat and thought about just how many creatures and how much life there in on Earth? Biodiversity is a term surely many are not familiar with. However, it is the reason that the Earth is the way it is. Everything has its role and even the smallest part is extremely important. So, why is biodiversity so important? How does this even happen? That’s is why you’re here, isn’t it? Well, let’s dive right in, shall we?
What is Biodiversity
What does biodiversity mean? To put it simply, the term biodiversity refers to the variety of life. The definition of biodiversity, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the biological diversity in an environment as indicated by numbers of different species of plants and animals.” There are many ways that biodiversity can be studied. Biodiversity can be studied on a global scale by looking at every single species on earth. More commonly, however, it is looked at on a smaller scale, diversity of species in a select ecosystem like a pond or forest. These species can include white-tailed deer, daffodils, frogs, evergreen trees, and much more. Biodiversity includes every species that live in an area.
Levels of Biodiversity
To properly explain biodiversity, you have to look at everything that goes into it. There are basically three levels of biodiversity. Genetic diversity, species diversity, and ecological diversity. Each are very important and one can not happen without the other. Look at it like the circle of life. Genetics make up the species, the species drive the ecosystem, and the ecosystem give the components of genetics (nitrogen, oxygen, and other elements) what they need to help the species to prosper. The following are the different components of global biodiversity.
First off is the diversity of genetics, otherwise known as your genes. Genes, made up of DNA, are the building blocks of life and ultimately determine how that specific organism will grow and develop as well as what abilities and traits it will have. This level can differ by alleles which are variants of the same gene, like blue or green eyes, by entire genes which determine traits, like the body’s ability to break down certain foods or substances, or by larger units than regular genes like chromosomes. Ways to measure this level can also differ. It can be looked at by population, species, like the genes of dogs, community, like a group of species, or biomes, like wetland or oceans.
This level is what is normally studied. Mostly because it is much easier to observe than the diversity of genes or ecosystems. This is because species are fairly easy to spot when out in the field. For example, out in the ocean, it is simple to point out starfish or different kinds of fish. Genetic diversity requires the use of a laboratory and ecosystem diversity needs many different measurements to be taken over a long period of time. Species can also easily be used to study both of the other levels of study. Noticing that more of a certain species is present in a certain area allows an insight into that ecosystem. The colors or other traits of the species can offer a peek into their genealogy as well.
Species are considered to have a specific role in their respective ecosystems. Which means that if an ecosystem sees an increase of decrease of a single species, it may have consequences on the whole system. When conservation begins, it is usually because a certain species is endangered. A change in the number of species are an easily noticeable distinction of how healthy or unhealthy an ecosystem is.
This level of biodiversity deals with the distribution of species and the patterns of its communities. It also studies the role of important species to that ecosystem and combines species functions and interactions. This level includes all of the areas greater than species, like associations, communities, and interactions. This level is often broken up into sub-levels because there is just so many things to look at.
This is actually the least understood study of the three biodiversity studies. This is due to all of the complex interactions, meaning looking at all of the species in an ecosystem and seeing how they affect each other and their surrounds all the while being affected themselves. Imagine looking at town of 60,000 people. Now imagine determining each of their individual roles and how they interact with their friends, superiors, their environment and how everything else affects them.
Difficulty of Ecosystem Diversity
Another difficulty of this study is determining the boundaries of communities. Of course, it is easy when transitioning from a lake to a forest, as they are two very different and diverse ecosystems. However, the distinction gets much more difficult when determining the change between a forest and a grassland, which shift more gradually than drastically. This gradual change is known as “open communities”, while drastic changes are known as “closed communities.”
There is also some disagreement among scientists about what exactly should be taken into consideration when studying ecological diversity. Some do not think that any of the properties found in the communities are special to that level. While others disagree and say that many of the characteristics are in fact unique and cannot be assumed as normal for the species as a whole. Some characteristic examples of biodiversity are the food chain and the species at each of those levels, factions or species in a community that function similarly, and many others.
The Importance of Biodiversity
Now that it is apparent just how expansive biodiversity is, why is it so important? To understand what the importance of biodiversity is you have to you have to take into consideration the entirety of biodiversity and all of its levels, instead of just thinking about how many species there are on Earth. Noticing that each level has many parts that make up the whole and no matter how small the element or species is, they play an important role. That role doesn’t just affect its respective level, but it affects the others as well. Remember the circle example and the examples given atop. Genes determine the species, species affect the ecosystem in a number of ways and in turn, the ecosystem gives back to the genes.
To put it in more accessible words, the systems of the ecosystem have specific services that not only affect the animals and plants that inhabit the area, but it also affects us, humans. If an ecosystem is functioning properly, life can go on without a glitch. Some of the services that the ecosystem supplies are supporting life, provision, and regulation. The ecosystem supports life by putting into effect the nutrient cycle (the cycle for which elements from the atmosphere and earth are able to be used by animals, plants, and humans). It also provides food, fresh water, wood, and even fuel. The ecosystem, of course, also regulates the climate, floods, disease, and purifies the water.
A bio-diverse ecosystem is incredibly important for a number of different reasons. As mentioned above, food is a very big factor in the importance of biodiversity. About 75% of our food comes from only 12 different plant species, while more than 90% of the worldwide livestock comes from 15 species of animals. Those 27 species could not survive without thousands and thousands of other species working to keep those animals and plants prosperous.
Many animals make agriculture possible, like bats, bees, birds, insects, frogs, moles, salamanders, spiders, toads, wasps, among many others. In Europe, more than 80% of their crops depends on insect pollination. In fact, bees boost crop revenue in the United States by $15 million every year. Bats are a global advantage. They save corn farmers roughly $1 billion a year just by eating other pesky insects and larvae that would hurt the crop.
In addition to helping crops, animals are also a large food source. Many people rely on protein from wild caught fish. For those fish to be healthy, they have to depend on their ecosystem, the coral reef. The genetic diversity of many species of animals has proven very useful as drought or diseases threaten crops.
Biodiversity has been proven to be of importance to our health in many ways. By having a diverse mix of plants, animals, and fungi to eat, it allows our bodies to use that nutrition to fight against illness and injuries. Studies have actually found that protected natural areas like national parks and such have found lower human rates of illnesses such as Lyme disease, malaria, and respiratory infection.
Scientists have made many discoveries in medicine through the study of biology and genetics of plants, animals, and fungi. Theophylline, which is an asthma drug, comes from cacao trees. Actually, almost 70% of plants with the potential to fight cancer occur only in rain forests. Other areas also have species that can advance medicine. The forests of eastern North America have a red cedar that produces a compound that fights antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Threats to Biodiversity
Of course, death is a natural part of life. Over the years, many species have grown and evolved and eventually died out. Species go extinct because of shifts in the environment that take place, like the ice age. However, species today are becoming endangered and going extinct much faster because of events that have changed the environment due to human activities.
- Habitat loss- due to the destruction and harm that is being caused to many areas, much of the ecosystem has been drastically changed. This makes the ecosystem not able to provide the food, water, cover, and nutrients to support the many species that live in that habitat.
- Destruction by deforestation, river dredging, and filling in wetlands
- Fragmentation by dividing parts of a habitat to make way for roads or buildings.
- Degradation by pollution or introducing invasive species
- Overexploitation- This is the overuse of wildlife and plant species by humans for food, clothing, pets, medicine, sport, and many other reasons. Just the loss of one species can have drastic changes in an ecosystem because, as mentioned before, the species drive the ecosystem and each has its specific purpose.
- Invasive Species- These species are any organism that is not native to that specific ecosystem and causes harm to the other species. Species that grow and reproduce quickly and spread aggressively can cause hard to the ecosystem and the inhabiting species by depleting the area of nutrients and space, creating an imbalance.
- Asian Carp
- Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs
- West Nile Virus
- Feral Pigs
- Zebra Mussels
- European Green Crabs
- Dutch Elm Disease
- Water Hyacinth
How to Help Biodiversity
Biodiversity is extremely important to our Earth. Well, everything on Earth is extremely important. Everything has its place and when one of those things is damaged or disappears, the whole system is thrown into disarray. We have seen that with the damage we have done to our atmosphere. Biodiversity is also in trouble, with the amount of hunting and overfishing as well as the destruction of many natural habitats. However, just like with climate change, there is a lot you can do to help. Here are some of the things you can do.
- Support Wildlife- make bird houses and support the ecosystem by supplying food and water as well as privacy. Even for the animals in your backyard.
- Protect Habitats- Help clean up parks and reserves.
- Be Green- Use clean and green energy like solar and wind power and limit the use of fossil fuels which hurt the atmosphere which is its own ecosystem.
- Be Careful What You Buy- Many souvenirs are made from the skin, fur, bone, shell, beak or hooves of endangered animals. By not supporting hunting for sport, you also help keep those species in their respective ecosystems.
- Buy Good Wood- Buy wood from sustainable sources. Every year, 13 million hectares of natural forests are lost.
- Buy Sustainable Seafood- You already heard about the problem with overfishing. By choosing a fish that has a good population, you can avoid the overfishing of nearly endangered species of fish.