“Biodiversity is our most valued, but least appreciated resource.” – Edward O. Wilson, American biologist, naturalist and writer
Biological diversity, or biodiversity, describes the variety of life, encompassing ecosystems and species that function in intricate webs of interconnectivity. Not only is it the source of the food we eat and foundation for all we do on earth, biodiversity also increases the adaptability and resiliency of the natural world to face challenges such as climate change. Let’s take a look at the different levels of biodiversity!
The diversity of genes, our basic defining unit, determines how closely related a species or certain member in a population is to another. High genetic biodiversity allows a population to be more adaptable to environmental conditions, while low genetic diversity may lead to problems such as widespread disease.
Species diversity or “species richness” is the variety and abundance of species within an environment. Each ecosystem has its own unique and proportional collection of species, depending on environmental conditions. The greater an ecosystem’s species diversity, the better it is at handling instability such as species extinction.
Ecosystem diversity is the diversity of ecosystems in a region, with each having its own producers and consumers utilizing and distributing energy derived from the sun. Higher ecosystem diversity provides more resources to the species that live there and better responses to environmental threats such as climate change.
Here are some well known and important examples of ecosystems:
Oceans. Scientists say the number of species that live in the ocean is unknown, and 91% of species have yet to be identified. Various ocean environments allow for unique animals to thrive – with cold water ecosystems housing kelp forests and otters, and tropical island ecosystems including a larger array of coral reefs and more. Biodiversity can also appear within single organisms, such as coral reefs, which is threatened by ocean acidification, coral bleaching, and pollution, making adaptability all the more critical.
Forests. From the smallest of soil organisms to the tallest of trees, there are many diverse species living in forests. Forest biodiversity is threatened by wildfires, a growing reality on the west coast of the United States and around the world. Some forests rely on natural wildfire to maintain proper function and health, but not on the massive scale and severity we are experiencing in the present due to climate change.
Urban. Biodiversity exists everywhere! Many plants and animals have adapted to urban settings, creating ecosystems that allow fragments of the natural world to thrive even in the middle of huge cities. Do you ever think about how plants in cities, suburbs, and rural areas are pollinated? Various species of bees and butterflies pollinate 75% of flowering plants and nearly 75% of crops. However, these pollinators cannot thrive when communities and industry use toxic pesticides and herbicides, such as glyphosate.
What is happening now?
Right before our eyes, this planet is experiencing its sixth mass extinction, as dozens of species go extinct every day. A UN report estimates that 1 million species are currently at risk for extinction, a statistic accelerating at an alarming rate. As a result, global biodiversity has declined 50% in the past 40 years. We have lost half of all species on earth in a geological blink of an eye.
Why is this mass extinction happening?
Unlike previous mass extinctions, the current precipitous loss of biodiversity is caused almost entirely by human activity. Deforestation and urban expansion, spreading of invasive and non-native species, and climate change all dramatically reduce habitats and Earth’s biodiversity. Humans directly disrupt nature as well, through movement, usage and actions such as transportation, tourism, dams, and more. When diminished, ecosystems become imbalanced and are unable to function effectively, putting ourselves and other species at risk.
There are many conservation solutions being implemented to protect against the loss of biodiversity, which include preserving land, establishing more protected areas, limiting tourism, and reducing specific threats. Other solutions like water conservation, stringent protections for endangered species, and a shift away from industrial animal agriculture.
The conservation community is slowly beginning to recognize deep knowledge of indigenous communities for potential solutions. “The knowledge of Indigenous peoples continues to provide key information to protect the resources of the Mother Earth, and to create opportunities for climate change adaptation and mitigation actions across diverse ecosystems,” per Conservation International.
If we envision a global transition from a consumptive and exploitative worldview to one that prioritizes conservation and biodiversity, we can live in harmony with all species and the Earth.
Helpful, motivated companies and organizations drive innovative work to ensure the health of our planet for future generations. Did you know that the certified organic label protects biodiversity? Our always-organic partner Nature’s Path outlines how organic farmers protect biodiversity through practices like protecting and improving soil health, maintaining diversity on the farm that respects the balance of the ecosystem, retaining wetlands and other natural areas, and collecting and preserving organic seeds. Friends of the Earth aims to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and promote the shift to organic farming systems that are more beneficial for bees, butterflies, people and planet, among many other campaigns that champion biodiversity.
Individuals (like you!) can also help combat biodiversity loss. How? By being aware of biodiversity and its importance, you are already a step ahead! Planting pollinator-friendly plants, not using pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and buying organic all directly support biodiversity. You can also shape your garden or backyard to qualify as a wildlife-certified space. What you learn throughout Project Green Challenge will surely help! By decreasing your carbon footprint and water consumption, living a low waste lifestyle, using eco-friendly products, supporting local farms, and advocating for justice, you are preserving biodiversity.
With today’s challenge, we hope you gain an understanding of the breadth and magnitude of biodiversity. And with that, rise to assume your place in finding and creating solutions to the climate crisis!
“Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature. Our food, our water, our health, our jobs – they all rely on the health of the planet’s ecosystems.” — Conservation International
- Check out Conservation International’s video series “Nature Is Speaking” for insight into the many biomes that Earth’s species call home.
- Write or talk about what you learned, share and save key takeaways.
- Think of the species in biomes near you, how are they impacted?
There is a lot to know about biodiversity. Knowledge is the first step in making change. And quality resources make it easier to get a solid sense of any massive or complex issue.
- Read this article from National Geographic summarizing a recent UN biodiversity report
- Read this piece from Friends of the Earth about how humans must change our views on biodiversity
- Watch this video from National Geographic about saving coral reef biodiversity
Inspiring, right? Now, it’s time to put knowledge into practice!
Find a green space near you (a park, backyard, or strip of grass along the sidewalk) and observe the plants and animals you see. Count how many different ones you find within a certain area. Are there multiple types of trees or flowers? How many animals are present? How many insects? Remember that more diversity in an ecosystem makes it more sustainable and resistant to disasters and climate change!
Where do you fit in? Do some research and find an impactful way that you can personally help biodiversity in your area!
Glyphosate is a toxic chemical threatening our world’s biodiversity and negatively impacting human health, and we can easily be exposed without even knowing. Countless schools, universities, and community parks use Roundup on green spaces, a weed killer made by Monsanto with glyphosate (a known carcinogen!) as the active ingredient. What can you do about this massive challenge to human and environmental health? More than you think! Let’s get started.
- Read articles here and here about the negative effects of glyphosate, the main ingredient in the pesticide Roundup, on the environment.
- Read this article highlighting the disproportionate amount of glyphosate in New York City communities of color.
- Get inspired by reading this piece about Turning Green heroes successfully banning glyphosate on the University of California campuses.
- Get more information about Herbicide Free Campus!
- Develop actionable steps a parks department or grounds operation office could take and how the community can get involved to make a difference.