What is biodiversity? And why does it matter?

What is biodiversity? And why does it matter?

In the most basic, literal sense, bio-diversity is the variety and plurality that exists in nature around us. If one were to go a level deeper, it would refer to the interconnected, often invisible, web that connects most forms of life – plants, animals, microorganisms and other elements of nature – to one another in a delicate balance. The interactions, interdependence and relationships that exist between these species and organisms form a solid support for humanity itself.

The Convention on Biological Diversity defines biodiversity in an article: “biological diversity means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.”

The ecosystems around us are crucial to our survival, it goes without saying. Our basic requirements – air, water, food, energy and shelter – are all obtained from natural resources. But various components of our ecosystems also play crucial roles as pollinators to keep plant life active, parasites to keep population in check, decomposers and recyclers that help in breaking down natural waste, nutrient fixers that help soil remain charged and healthy, to name just a few. The list is endless, and possibly includes species playing crucial functions you might not even imagine are linked to our existence.

Biodiversity matters simply because without it we would not exist. However, this naturally balanced web of interdependence has suffered a lot of destruction thanks to an explosion in human population that has caused a spike in the demand for natural resources and has put tremendous pressure on our biodiversity. Natural resources mined indiscriminately without time and space for renewal, natural habitats destroyed to make way for human settlements and other indiscriminate environmental degradation have undoubtedly contributed to a less than desirable state of our current biodiversity.

This recent report in The Guardian discusses biodiversity in the age of climate change provides a succinct and apt definiton: “More formally, biodiversity is comprised of several levels, starting with genes, then individual species, then communities of creatures and finally entire ecosystems, such as forests or coral reefs, where life interplays with the physical environment. These myriad interactions have made Earth habitable for billions of years.”

Much of our urban lives as we know it today is increasingly limited to cities and disconnected from more “natural” habitats that are relegated to forests and the like. Our understanding of “nature” seems to be separate from us and the modern, mechanised worlds we inhabit. But there are deep and intricate connections that exist between the two worlds responsible for holding us up and life to endure. Right from the air we breathe, the water we consume, the food on our plates, to the insects we treat as pests and the animals in our vicinity, are all dependent on biodiversity thriving. This intricate, and seemingly insignificant, interaction exists between ecosystems, creating a healthy, symbiotic balance. A balance that in its natural form has a is self-sufficient and self-sustaining rhythm. A balance that is increasingly tenuous and under threat, as we disconnect ourselves from it, at the hands of rampant urbanisation and development that destroys ecosystems we may not even be aware of.

The Guardian report does a good job of putting the value of a rich biodiversity in perspective:

“If money is a measure, the services provided by ecosystems are estimated to be worth trillions of dollars – double the world’s GDP. Biodiversity loss in Europe alone costs the continent about 3% of its GDP, or €450m (£400m), a year.”

A 2018 research paper that discusses the specific effects of climate change on biodiversity states that while plant and animal organisms react to environmental changes, have the capacity to balance and check some imbalances, changes that are too fast and drastic leave species will less time to adapt.

Ecosystems operate like the clockwork that keeps us going. They carry the biological and environmental intelligence of years of evolution that have resulted in them performing the roles that they do. That process is a deeply organic one that cannot be hastened, changed, tampered or replaced by human intervention that seems to only move forward in pursuit of economic gain. This couple prove catastrophic in the long run, as we run the risk of decimating irreversibly generations worth of natural processes that we are simply incapable of performing ourselves.

Without the crucial work of looking at the impact of our lives on our biodiversity, we may never be able to put into effect essential processes for conservation and regeneration. And this could prove disastrous for us as a race.

Post by Tejas Gathani

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