The term biodiversity (from “biological diversity”) refers to the variety of life on Earth at all its levels, from genes to ecosystems, and can encompass the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes that sustain life. Biodiversity includes not only species we consider rare, threatened, or endangered but also every living thing—from humans to organisms we know little about, such as microbes, fungi, and invertebrates.
From ecosystem-based approaches to climate and nature-based solutions to climate, health issues, food and water security and sustainable livelihoods, biodiversity is the foundation upon which we can build back better. The theme in 2022 is “Building a shared future for all life” and it is celebrated on 22 may every year. Fitting within the context of the ongoing United Nations Decade on Restoration, which highlights that biodiversity is the answer to several sustainable development challenges, the slogan conveys the message that biodiversity is the foundation upon which we can build back better.
At the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, we include humans and human cultural diversity as a part of biodiversity. We use the term “biocultural” to describe the dynamic, continually evolving and interconnected nature of people and place, and the notion that social and biological dimensions are interrelated. This concept recognizes that human use, knowledge, and beliefs influence, and in turn are influenced, by the ecological systems of which human communities are a part. This relationship makes all of biodiversity, including the species, land and seascapes, and the cultural links to the places where we live—be right where we are or in distant lands—important to our wellbeing as they all play a role in maintaining a diverse and healthy planet.
The good news is that it is within our power to change our actions to help ensure the survival of species and the health and integrity of ecological systems. By understanding threats to biodiversity, and how they play out in context, we can be best prepared to manage conservation challenges. The conservation efforts of the last decades have made a significant difference in the state of biodiversity today. Over 100,000 protected areas—including national parks, wildlife refuges, game reserves, and marine protected areas, managed both by governments and local communities—provide habitat for wildlife, and help keep deforestation in check.
When protecting habitat is not enough, other types of conservation actions such as restoration, reintroduction, and the control of invasive species, have had positive impacts. And these efforts have been bolstered by continuous efforts to improve environmental policies at local, regional, and global scales. Finally, the lifestyle choices of individuals and communities can have a large effect on their impacts on biodiversity and the environment. While we might not be able to prevent all negative human impacts on biodiversity, with knowledge we can work to change the direction and shape of our effects on the rest of life on Earth.
Levels of Biodiversity
Biodiversity is commonly considered at three different levels:
- Within species (intraspecific) diversity; usually measured in terms of genetic differences between individuals or populations.
- Species (interspecific) diversity, measured as a combination of number and evenness of abundance of species.
- Community or ecosystem diversity, measured as the number of different species assemblages.
Biodiversity, therefore, is usually considered at three hierarchical levels i.e. Genetic, Species and Community and Ecosystem levels.
Genetic diversity refers to any variation in the nucleotides, genes, chromosomes, or whole genomes of organisms. This is the “fundamental currency of diversity” (Williams and Humphries, 1996) and the basis for all other organismal diversity.
- Genetic diversity is the sum total of genetic information, contained in the genes of individuals of plants, animals and microorganisms that inhabit the earth.
- It is needed by any species in order to maintain reproductive vitality, resistance to disease and the ability to adapt to changing conditions.
- It enables a population to adapt to its environment and to respond to natural selection. The amount of genetic variation is the basis of speciation.
- Genetic diversity within a species often increases with environmental variability.
A group of organisms genetically so similar, that they can interbreed and produce fertile off springs is called a species.
- The species diversity is usually measured in terms of the total number of species within discrete geographical boundaries.
- Species are distinct units of diversity each playing a specific role in the ecosystem.
- In nature, both the number and kind of species, as well as the number of individuals per species vary, leading to greater diversity.
An ecosystem is referred to as ‘natural’ when it is relatively undisturbed by human activities, or ‘modified’ when it is changed to other types of uses, such as farmland or urban areas. Ecosystems are most natural in wilderness areas. If natural ecosystems are overused or misused their productivity eventually decreases and they are then said to be degraded. India is exceptionally rich in its ecosystem diversity.
Importance of Biodiversity
Biodiversity is very important to most aspects of our lives. We value biodiversity for many reasons, some utilitarian, some intrinsic. This means we value biodiversity both for what it provides to humans, and for the value it has in its own right.
It include the many basic needs humans obtain from biodiversity such as food, fuel, shelter, and medicine. Further, ecosystems provide crucial services such as pollination, seed dispersal, climate regulation, water purification, nutrient cycling, and control of agricultural pests. Biodiversity also holds value for potential benefits not yet recognized, such as new medicines and other possible unknown services. Biodiversity has cultural value to humans as well, for spiritual or religious reasons for instance.
It refers to its inherent worth, which is independent of its value to anyone or anything else. This is more of a philosophical concept, which can be thought of as the inalienable right to exist. Finally, the value of biodiversity can also be understood through the lens of the relationships we form and strive for with each other and the rest of nature. We may value biodiversity because of how it shapes who we are, our relationships to each other, and social norms. These relational values are part of peoples’ individual or collective sense of wellbeing, responsibility for, and connection with the environment. The different values placed on biodiversity are important because they can influence the conservation decisions people make every day.
Threats to Biodiversity
Over the last century, humans have come to dominate the planet, causing rapid ecosystem change and massive loss of biodiversity across the planet. This has led some people to refer to the time we now live in as the “Anthropocene.” While the Earth has always experienced changes and extinctions, today they are occurring at an unprecedented rate. Major direct threats to biodiversity include habitat loss and fragmentation, unsustainable resource use, invasive species, pollution, and global climate change.
The underlying causes of biodiversity loss, such as a growing human population and overconsumption are often complex and stem from many interrelated factors. Specific types of human actions that threatened biodiversity and ecosystems and causes to extinction of many species are:
Extinction is the global loss of a species. Five mass extinctions have occurred in geological history, and extinction rates were particular high during these events. Earth is currently experiencing a sixth mass extinction, which is driven by human activities. When mass extinctions are not occurring, extinction still occurs at a low rate, the background extinction rate. The local elimination of a species (extirpation) is also of conservation concern.
Measures of Biodiversity Loss
A common means of assessing biodiversity loss involves classifying species based on extinction risk. The Red List includes nine such categories. The species at greatest risk of extinction are called critically endangered, followed by endangered, vulnerable, and near threatened species. Biodiversity can also be gauged at the ecosystem level, both in terms of area and ecosystem diversity.
Habitat loss includes habitat destruction, altering the physical environment such that a species can no longer live there, and habitat fragmentation, which involves dividing a habitat into discontinuous patches.
Overexploitation involves removing organisms at a faster rate than they can be replenished. Examples include the poaching of elephants, unsustainable hunting for bush meat, overfishing, and over collection of slow-growing plants and fungi.
Pollution is the release of harmful chemicals or other materials into the environment. Some types of air pollution results in acid deposition and climate change. Nutrient pollution of water bodies due to fertilizer overuse results in eutrophication. Chemical contaminant certainly poses a further threat to species and ecosystems. While not commonly a cause of extinction, it likely can be for species whose range is extremely small, and threatened by contamination.
Invasive species are those occurring outside of their historical distribution that cause ecological and/or economic harm. Invasive species can over predate or outcompete native species, sometimes causing their extinction or extirpation. Examples of invasive species include the Asian carp, zebra mussels etc.
The release of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, when burning fossil fuels for energy causes climate change. Not only does climate change involve an increase in average global temperature, but it also results in unpredictable weather patterns. Climate change threatens biodiversity through a variety of mechanisms and can cause species range shifts, mismatched biotic interactions, sea level rise, and ocean acidification.
Benefits of Biodiversity
The benefits of biodiversity include keeping water quality pure. Plants will take up contaminants in water and process and purify the water.
Providing food to the human population on this earth for thousands of years. In the process of development of human civilization, man has unfolded many plant and animal life forms which are directly or indirectly helpful for him in solving his food problem.
Timber which is a major component of material used for providing shelter to man. Natural fibers like cotton and silk are still used for clothing by human population.
Medicines, drugs and pharmaceuticals. Many plant genetic resources are used from derivation of basic drugs. These plant resources vary from actinomycetes and fungi to large trees.
Ecological benefits/services (Indirect use value)
Biodiversity supplies the buffering capacity and stability to life on the planet by maintaining the interactive dynamics of the ecosystems of the world.
Man has always been fascinated by the natural beauty and nature has inspired him resulting in development of his moral and ethical values. This intrinsic value of plants and animals are independent of their economic and commercial value. Wonderful plants and animals of this planet not only reflect their aesthetic value but they can make us think of the creator. This opens doors for spiritually which envisages to live in harmony with the nature.
We can Protect Biodiversity
- Purchase products that have eco-labels for reference: These labels allow consumers to learn exactly products are made from and the percentages of the ingredients in a particular food or household item.
- Recycle all plastic and glass products as a household: This process prevents the overuse of petroleum products in the making of items, as well as, protects trees and forests used in paper products.
- Reduce or eliminate the use of products that come in aerosol cans: These products are known to damage the ozone layer, the environment and to add to the pollution of the air that we breathe.
- Purchase eco-friendly appliances for your home and office: There are many brands and types of appliances in this category that are designed to utilize less energy and to reduce utility costs.
- Use energy conserving light bulbs around your house: It is possible to purchase LED light bulbs for all of your fixtures, lamps and recess locations to improve overall efficiency and protect the environment.
- Eat more organically grown produce items: These are fruits and vegetables that were grown without the use of harmful fertilizers that are often made from a vast array of chemicals and components.
- Select times to walk to work or play activities instead of driving your vehicle: This healthy option reduces emissions in the air which negatively or harmfully impacts both plants and animals.
- Purchase meat products of animals fed grass or organic feed items: Animals in this category produce safer meat for consumption because they do not have added hormones or chemicals.
- Support restaurants and fast food locations that use recycled paper products: These businesses make a point of purchasing products that are green and that promote global deforestation efforts.
- Consider purchasing a vehicle that uses less fuel or that functions electrically: These vehicles are available in different sizes and styles and provide consumers with alternate transportation options.
- Purchase energy efficient electronics and computers: Items in this category were designed to use less energy overall through components like batteries, wiring and other conservation details.
- Garden and get rid of outdoor pests, using natural soil and composting efforts: This allows you to grow plants and vegetables without the use of products including chemicals and pesticides.
- Consume produce that has not been genetically modified: These fruits and vegetables were generally grown through natural means and offer health benefits, vitamins and nutrients.
- Pick up litter from parks, yards and gardens in the community: Many of the items littered, such as, cans and plastics are not biodegradable and can affect habitats negatively when left alone.
- Purchase seafood items that have been certified: These are normally fish and other items that come from fisheries that are fully sustainable and operate ethically and environmentally conscious.
- Use batteries that are rechargeable and buy related kits: This practice not only cuts your cost of purchasing batteries but reduces lead and other metals utilized in their production.
- Turn lights off after leaving a room: This is a practice that promotes the use of less electricity overall and it also can have a budget-friendly impact on your household or office utilities.
- Use green insulation products to protect your home and business: These products include green components for walls and attics and other household areas and do not have chemical ingredients.
- Hire cleaning companies and services that use green products: These companies’ perform cleaning services without the use of products that include harsh chemicals and those that are in aerosol cans.
- Plant a variety of flowers in gardens and yards outside the home: This is a way to promote our immune systems, pollination and to maintain bee populations and the making of local honey products.
- Purchase a shower timer for the bathrooms in your home: This type of product is used to reduce the amount of water each household uses and can help to lower utility costs in this area.
- Limit the use of a dryer for laundry activities: Install an indoor clothes hanger to allow apparel to dry naturally without the use of energy and electricity for the same goal.
- Recycle all paper and cardboard products: You can store these products for recycling and benefit the environment because they can be used to make liners, egg cartons and various other items.
- Use water-based paints for decoration project: These are paint products produced without chemical components that can lead to breathing problems and allergies.
- Close your curtains during the summer months of the year: This practice allows you to cool the rooms of your house without using air conditioning or fans reduce energy consumption.
- Barbecue or grill outdoors with natural gas equipment instead of charcoal grills: Charcoal grills operate by putting fossil fuel into the air and increasing the production of pollution.
- Purchase cosmetic products that are produced from natural oils: There are many products in this category that do not include chemicals and dyes, and provide consumers with healthy alternatives.
- Schedule and run multiple errands at one time each week: Cutting back on trips around town can be done through consolidation and taking care of a variety of things in one single trip.
- Install surge protectors in your home office: This is a good way to conserve energy and space, because you can use one source to plug multiple appliances at the same time.
- Plant trees near your home to produce shade during the summer: Strategic tree placement can help you to cool the rooms of your home and to use less energy for this process.
- Purchase sink water filter product for your kitchen: This is a healthy way to filter drinking and cooking water, as well as, reducing the purchase of costly bottled water products.
- Reduce waste of household food resources: Organize food purchases and storage methods to avoid the waste of these resources and negative impacts on your budget.
- Do your yardwork with hand tools whenever possible: Brooms, hedge cutters and shovels allow for a good workout and do not require gasoline to operate effectively.
- Purchase geothermal heat pumps for homes and businesses: These are examples of products that run by harnessing heat from the ground and offer more efficiency.
- Regularly maintain the operation of your vehicle: Checking various components and engine levels helps the vehicle to function efficiently and to use less fuel overall.
Most biodiversity resources are consumed by humans, so it is their primary responsibility to preserve and protect biodiversity to protect the earth. The richness of the species, the ecosystem, the environment and the sustainable growth of life on earth is important. It is need of time to enforce strong legislative obligation to prevent the illegal hunting of rare species.