It is estimated that there are more than 9 million different species of plants and fungi in the world but the world’s diversity has declined by more than 60% in just 40 years. Biodiversity means life, its variations and how important these are. It also lets us know how capable biodiversity is of resisting and evolving, and though a less well-known fact, it also indicates the quality of life.
What is biodiversity and why is it so valuable?
The word biodiversity and the meaning it conveys, is attributed to Walter G. Rosen, and first appeared as an abbreviated version of biological diversity in October 1986, when the afore-mentioned set up the National Forum on Biodiversity. But apart from semantics, or the actual word itself, we can say that the concept refers to a kind of richness.
On a more general level, the word refers to the different species that live together is one place. On a technical level, in the field of biology, biodiversity refers specifically to the number of groups of organisms and different species there are in an area. For ecologists this concept includes the diversity of constant interaction between species and their ecosystems.
Looking at it from this angle, we can differentiate three levels of biodiversity:
- The genetics (or intraspecific diversity) which refers to the variation there is within each species;
- Specific biodiversity, which refers to the species which share an ecosystem;
- The ecosystem, which describes the diversity of biological communities, or biocenosis, which together, make up the biosphere.
When all is said and done, we cannot discuss living things without talking about their relationships with one another.
For example, let’s imagine that there are many species of fruit trees in a field: an apple tree, an almond tree, a peach tree…and there are also many other species of insects and animals. The biodiversity here does not just include these species, but also the relationship there is amongst them: the fact that some are pollinators, we think of the plagues there may be, the competitive interaction there is among trees to occupy their own parts of the soil etc.
In other words, the word biodiversity tells us of the richness of life, seen from its tiniest part, its genes, to the greatest – the biological communities which make up the world in which we live.
Maintaining biodiversity in order to maintain our quality of life.
What difference could the loss of other living species make?
Apart from the ethical importance attached to the disappearance of a species, the relationship this species has with other living things is also lost, leaving behind an ecosystem that is more vulnerable. For example, the disappearance of flying insects, which help to pollinize our fruit fields, would mean that fruit would not be produced and we would eventually, over time, lose these trees.
And what would be so bad about plague-producing insects disappearing?
Biological relationships are very complex and nuanced to such an extent that they may be difficult to predict or foresee: these species may be essential in order to keep the predators which devour the flying insects at bay and therefore, the disappearance of this biodiversity would have a negative effect on the field in question although initially, we may not even have thought of this aspect.
Allowing plagues to be at their free will, uncontrolled, may mean the end of crops, which would once again, have disastrous consequences. This is why it is necessary to maintain a tireless control of biodiversity in order to preserve it. This needs to be done in a well-thought out, scientific way and it is expensive. But the price to pay would be even higher if nothing was done and specific measures need to be taken to help control plagues, so that they don’t wreak havoc, but also ensuring that biodiversity is not diminished .
Biological biodiversity affects all members of an ecosystem. We now know that a better-quality life can be associated with environments with a greater biodiversity. This tends to be because there is a greater amount of quality food, base products for medicines, natural elements to be enjoyed for pleasure and an unending list of beneficial properties. Referring back to our previous example: it is in our interest to be able to eat apples, peaches and almonds as opposed to just apples!
Besides all of this, biodiversity is essential to be able to resist certain menaces. For example, the greater the genetic diversity, the more likely an ecosystem is to bounce back from something like a fire or a particularly aggressive disease that could decimate a population. In other words, diversity is always something positive, a sign of adaptation, evolution and quality of life.
According to the European Union, biodiversity among plants and animals has fallen by more than 60% in the last 40 years.
- There are said to be some 7.77 million animal species.
- 298,000 plants.
- 611,000 species of fungi.
- More than a million species are in risk of extinction, as far as we know.
The loss of these species is a hard blow for communities all over the world. The problem being that many of the species that are directly or indirectly in danger, are among the most important for humans. And even if this weren’t the case, as we have already pointed out, the loss of biodiversity affects the whole ecosystem, meaning that sooner or later, this would have repercussions on people’s health and quality of life (and on the world in general).
This is why it is so important to learn to appreciate its worth, know what the role it plays in our lives is, and how we can protect it. Luckily, and especially out in the fields, we are more and more aware of the need to strive for a rich, respectful environment which will help us to preserve the quality of life of the whole ecosystem.