Biology

Published on May 22nd, 2014 | by Bridget Murray

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International Day for Biodiversity

The 22nd of May is the International Day for Biodiversity. Biodiversity is the variety of life on earth, taking into account richness, evenness and composition of life. It is highly influenced, be it positively or negatively, by both natural and anthropogenic processes, and without it, our world would be a less productive, less exciting place.

“Islands are particularly important in terms of biodiversity — although they make up less than 5% of the world’s land mass, they house over 20% of terrestrial biodiversity.”

This year, Island Biodiversity is being celebrated in particular. Islands are particularly important in terms of biodiversity — although they make up less than 5% of the world’s land mass, they house over 20% of our terrestrial biodiversity. Unfortunately, diversity, particularly island diversity, is in decline. In the last 500 years, 80% of all vertebrate extinctions have occurred on islands. The Day for Biodiversity aims to raise awareness of this plight, and engage people with conserving biodiversity.

But why conserve?

There are many reasons to halt the decline in biodiversity before it’s too late, and broadly, they can be split into two categories; because biodiversity is useful for humans, or because biodiversity has intrinsic worth.

How is biodiversity useful to humans?

“We rely on ecosystem services to live our day-to-day lives, even if we don’t know it.”

We rely on ecosystem services to live our day-to-day lives, even if we don’t know it. There is evidence that the overall functioning of the ecosystem, and its stability, is reliant on biodiversity. Only if the ecosystem is stable enough to provide basic supporting services can we reap benefits from it. The ecosystem is an excellent source of provisioning services — food, water, medical resources, raw materials such as timber, and even energy in the form of hydropower and biofuels.

Equally important are the regulating services the ecosystem provides for us. For example, wetlands are extremely effective, natural, flood protection. If the biodiversity of wetlands is allowed to decline, the ecosystem is degraded and less effective flood protection. This could lead to significant amounts of money being spent on artificial flood protection, money that could have been used elsewhere, if we’d been more careful with our natural resources.

Ecosystems also provide cultural services. If there’s no biodiversity, that once in a lifetime safari you’ve been saving up for is going to be much less interesting, because there won’t be anything to look at. Or what about that calming walk along the beach you’ve taken for a revision break? Will it be as relaxing if the beach is made up of more litter than sand?

It doesn’t have to be about us.

“Biodiversity can be considered as having intrinsic worth.”

Biodiversity can be considered as having intrinsic worth. It’ s all well and good listing reasons why, in anthropogenic terms, it’s worthwhile to conserve biodiversity, but what about conserving it just because it’s there? It’s commonly thought that people are valuable, regardless of the attitudes of the observer. Why is this not the case for biodiversity, for nature? Why doesn’t it have an automatic right to exist?

Is there one convincing argument?

Both of the views outlined above have their merits, but, as with any argument, they also have their issues. What happens to the argument if we try and view it from a purely logical point of view? Aldo Leopold, an American conservationist, said, “If the biota, in the course of eons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering”.

Aldo Leopold

For me, Leopold provides the perfect reason to conserve biodiversity.

“If the biota, in the course of eons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”— Aldo Leopold

It’s without sentiment, it’s without selfishness, it’s just logic. But Leopold came up with this idea over seventy years ago. And yet biodiversity is still in decline. This highlights the importance of engaging people with days like the International Day for Biodiversity. If we don’t, soon we may not have anything left to conserve at all.

Image of Aldo Leopold from The Aldo Leopold Foundation at aldoleopold.org.

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About the Author

A zoology undergraduate in her fourth year, Bridget spends most of her time trying to pretend graduation isn't looming, fiddling with the exhibitions in the Zoology Museum. In her spare time she bakes a lot of cakes and edits a lot of words.



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