The variety of life on our earth is often mind-boggling. However, is biodiversity important for our earth? If yes, why is biodiversity important to ecosystems? Let’s find out the answers in this article.
We, humans, are the bane of mother earth. You must’ve heard about animals like the bottlenose dolphin, the Bengal tiger, and the Tasmanian tiger, among some of the recent species gone extinct.
However, what you don’t know is that the rate of animal extinction is more than 500-1000% higher than the average level. In the last two decades, we wiped out more than 20 percent of the great Amazon rainforest, which took millions of invisible species to extinction.
Not to mention, increasing deforestation is ripping away species of plants and crops, some of which biologists have not even discovered yet.
Yes, we are in the middle of a severe biodiversity crisis. But what is biodiversity? And how does it shape the world we live in and life as we know it? Read through my article about why biodiversity is essential to ecosystems to find out the reason.
What is Biodiversity?
For those who are new to the concept, the variety of life on earth is referred to as biodiversity. In a metropolitan city, it might seem like we’re the only living things around, apart from the few birds and domestic animals we witness here and there.
But, as everyone knows, that’s far from the truth. Living things here on the earth include all the species of plants, animals, and even microorganisms. Besides that, similar to humans, these species have diverse genetic information in every individual.
Moreover, these genetic differences change with every ecosystem globally, namely deserts, oceans, rainforests, and the arctic tundra.
If you’re wondering why biodiversity is important to the health of an ecosystem, here’s the truth. As E.O Wilson states, together, all these species, including humans, protect each other and make this earth habitable.
And similarly, if we continue to eradicate living species with our non-sustainable practices, we’ll deliver a massive blow to the environment and probably bring about the sixth mass extinction.
While life in its entirety would take millions of years to recover, humans stand no chance and would disappear within the first few years when the damage is done. In simpler words, we’re sawing off the very limb we’re sitting on.
I bet that makes you find out more about biodiversity and why is biodiversity important to ecosystems. First, let’s get some insight into biodiversity types before listing down their benefits and importance.
Types of Biodiversity
It is enthralling enough to think that the earth is the only planet with life in the entire universe; it is equally astonishing to discover that it is teeming with life of all sorts.
Even with the cutting-edge technological advancements of this era, there are still hundreds of species we don’t even know about in both plant and animal kingdoms.
However, when it comes to perceiving biodiversity as an estimated unit, scientists have divided it into three different types of levels.
Here are some details about each type so you can get an idea about the unfathomable magnitude of biodiversity before we discuss why biodiversity is important to ecosystems.
As I mentioned, the earth is home is diverse ecosystems such as oceans, deserts, grasslands, mountains, lakes, beaches, and forests. These ecosystems are the largest scales on which biodiversity can be examined.
Mainly, ecosystem diversity looks at the number of ecosystems existing in a particular area. For example, if we look at California, the entire area comprises multiple ecosystems, including deserts, forests, lakes, and beaches.
When scientists study biodiversity from this level, they take all the animals, plants, and microorganisms co-existing in particular areas to define their sustainability. For example, a simple coral reef houses numerous biologically diverse beings as compared to frigid regions like Antarctica. Studying these diverse ecosystems helps us perceive their possible impacts on human life.
Biodiversity of Species
When we go deeper into ecosystems, we witness various species co-existing within the community. To scale the biodiversity of an ecosystem, scientists look for the richness and evenness of the ecosystem’s species.
For example, where do these species stand in the food web? Are there alternative food options in the ecosystem to help them grow?
Similarly, the evenness of species shows the ratio of each living being compared to the other. For instance, there should be around ten times more fish than bears in an ecosystem to ensure everyone along the food chain has enough food.
If you were initially wondering how the extinction of frogs or bees could affect you as humans, this is a point you should ponder. Even we humans are a part of the food web. This means the more abundance of species, the more sustainable our ecosystem will become.
Genetic diversity exists in all living things, from humans to plants and animals. Like no two individuals are the same in humans, every plant or animal, even from the same species, has different genetic information.
Biodiversity at genetic levels helps the offsprings adapt to the changes in the environment. Adversely, if a particular species’ population is reduced, there’s a higher probability of birth defects and infertility in the survivors, which ultimately leads to extinction.
If you’re wondering why is it important to preserve biodiversity on a genetic level, you’re in for a surprise. We need to maintain the genetic diversity of major crops to provide enough food for the entire population.
Genetic erosion of crops at this rate is inevitable, as ninety percent of the food we consume comes from only 100 types of crops. This means we’re more likely to face a food shortage if a drought or pests invade our existing food sources.
The Food and Agricultural Department at the UN has created various seed banks worldwide to save the seeds that are likely to survive in extreme climate conditions and against pests.
Why Is Biodiversity Important To Ecosystems? – Top 7 Reasons
Now that you have a complete understanding of the concept of biodiversity, you probably realize that diminishing biodiversity is a big deal.
Besides that, almost 58% of the earth’s land has already lost considerable biodiversity. Which makes us think, why is biodiversity important? Can’t technological advancements save us from the gap created by diminishing plant and animal species?
To further your understanding, I’ve listed how biodiversity holds the salient aspects of our lives together. Read through the points below to know why biodiversity is important to an ecosystem and why we should take all measures to preserve it before it is too late.
1. Biodiversity Provides the Food We Eat
You already have some idea about the importance of biodiversity in agriculture from the points we discussed above. If that sounded bad enough for you, there’s more.
You see, 90% of our entire population depends on 15 species of livestock for food. These include cows, goats, pigs, chickens, and various others. Similarly, while more than a hundred food crops sustain human life, 75% of all humans rely on only 12 crops as a staple food source.
Now, these 27 crops and animal sources in total might be seemingly cultivated in abundance, but that’s where biodiversity comes in. There are hundreds of species, from plants to small animals and insects, sustaining the species we eat.
If biodiversity diminishes as a whole, it will eventually affect our food supply and cause a population decline in the ones sitting at the top of the food chain.
To get a clear idea, look at it this way. More than 80% of all the food crops grown across the US rely on pollination through migrating insects. Similarly, bats play an important role in the agricultural industry by eliminating pests and insect larvae that feed on crops.
Most importantly, because we cultivate a set number of crops industrially, they’re found to be more prone to disease and droughts compared to their genetically diverse counterparts growing in the wild.
See Related: Important Pros and Cons of Offshore Drilling
2. Biodiversity Keeps Us Healthy
Another aspect that highlights the importance of biodiversity is human health. We humans have long safeguarded ourselves from diseases by eating effective combinations of diverse plants, animals, and fungi.
Believe it or not, research shows that there’s a low occurrence of diseases like malaria and respiratory infection in areas with natural vegetation.
Similarly, a fundamental reason why biodiversity is important to ecosystems is that it helps us develop the medicine required to treat fatal illnesses. In locations teeming with biodiversity, such as rainforests, we’ve found numerous plants with properties that help fight cancer.
Similarly, the red cedar tree gives us compounds that fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria, while cacao trees produce theophylline, used to combat asthma. This means with diminishing biodiversity; humans should be concerned about whether they’ll find the drugs and vaccines needed for upcoming diseases.
3. Biodiversity Supports our Ecosystem
For those asking why is biodiversity important to ecosystems, it makes us the ecosystem we live in. There are many benefits we get from a biodiverse environment that we take for granted.
For instance, take the air we breathe in. It wouldn’t be clean and pure if there weren’t any oxygen produced by plants. In turn, these species take in pollutants that are harmful to us.
Similarly, the abundance of forests ensures a healthy water cycle. This results in fertile soil and phytoremediation. Also, forests absorb water that controls excess flooding and erosion.
What’s more, the soil we use for agriculture is an excellent ecosystem in itself. It is home to various insects and creepy crawlies that provide food for larger organisms and create nutrients to make plants healthy.
Most importantly, biodiversity brings us raw materials like oil, coal, and biofuels to sustain the technology we’ve grown accustomed to for several decades.
Unless we try to bring biodiversity back to an ideal level, we could face an ecological recession with far worse consequences than an economic recession.
Some landowners try to contribute to the environment by preserving the land they own. It doesn’t much effort, all they have to do is restrict activities like hunting and fishing on the premises and let natural flora and fauna return to their natural habitat.
You can find all the details about wildlife preservation ‘Landowner’s Guide to Managing Your Woods’, written by Steve and Ann Larkin Hansen, available on Amazon.
4. Biodiversity Safeguards Nature As We Know It
Whenever we think of devising profitable investment portfolios, we often get the advice, ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket.’ In that sense, it is safe to say that biodiversity reduces the risk factor existing in our ecosystem.
I’ll make that clear with a simple example. Usually, viruses that affect plants and promote their erosion only specialize in certain species and genes. If only one or a few species exist in an ecosystem, the virus is likely to destroy them all.
On the other hand, if the ecosystem has a diverse range of species, it is more likely to stay safe against any virus that arises. That’s why biodiversity is important to ecosystems because it protects the environment from extreme conditions. Even if some species fail to survive, others will remain to sustain the ecosystem and the living things.
5. Biodiversity Helps Our Economy Thrive
From the food industry to tourism, commercial timber manufacturing, and real estate, biodiversity helps the economy thrive. If there were no bees or insects to pollinate crops, the food industry would most likely collapse.
Similarly, many people depend on natural species for their daily income, like fishing and farming. Besides that, fuel, medicine, and natural products provide a livelihood for millions of people from developing and developed countries.
Most importantly, preserving biodiversity is also expected to be profitable for the economy in the long run.
The dire state of the world today has contributed to a rise in the profitability of sustainable businesses. According to the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, it is estimated that sustainable modes of uncovering natural resources can develop into a $6 trillion industry by 2050.
Similarly, businesses that help contribute to the environment such as plastic alternatives that aim to save our sea life are expected to make exponential revenue in the coming years.
6. Biodiversity Can Potentially Provide A Solution To Climate Change
Climate change is an inevitable reality we’re facing as a civilization, and biodiversity holds a potential solution we should consider before it is too late. If you’re someone who thought planting trees cannot save us from the consequences of climate change anymore, think again.
The main area that requires attention while combating climate change is the reduction of harmful emissions. A study conducted in 2017 reports that nature plays an important role in reducing these emissions to an ideal level till 2030.
Restoring tropical rainforests, mangroves, and high-biodiversity natural terrains can store a considerable amount of carbon from our atmosphere. This can ultimately help clean out the air we breathe in and even save communities threatened by natural disasters like hurricanes, storms, and floods.
7. Biodiversity Preserves Our Cultural Ethics and Aesthetics
Far beyond food and resources, biodiversity is important for aspects that transcend our short lifetimes. It is the base of the natural evolutionary process backed by productive natural selection. Moreover, biodiversity has the potential to save us from the environmental challenges we might face in the future.
We might not witness them during our lifetime, but because we have the power to influence these changes, the least we can do is not hinder the beautiful process that shapes the existence of life on earth.
Similarly, one of the many neglected benefits of biodiversity is simply its aesthetics. Would artists or poets be able to conjure up beautiful words and pieces of art if it weren’t for nature? Doesn’t the diverse creation of living things fuel our creativity, memory, and productivity?
This makes biodiversity the essence of all life on earth, while humans are just a part of it. If we understand the magnitude of the concept, we understand the importance it holds for us and our future generations.
Importance of Maintaining Ecosystem Biodiversity – What Next?
Now that you know the importance of biodiversity and how it sustains life as we know it, there’s some bad news for all of us. Today, the main reasons for the diminishing level of biodiversity are all related to human activity. These include climate change, deforestation, pollution, and over-exploitation of resources.
If we don’t take the measures needed to preserve biodiversity to a safe extent, our species can face extinction. Yes, it does sound far-fetched, but we’re already in the middle of the process; if we don’t work toward change from today, humankind won’t stand a chance when nature takes its course.