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47.2: The Importance of Biodiversity to Human Life - Biology

47.2:  The Importance of Biodiversity to Human Life - Biology


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47.2: The Importance of Biodiversity to Human Life

47.2 The importance of biodiversity to human life

It may not be clear why biologists are concerned about biodiversity loss. When biodiversity loss is thought of as the extinction of the passenger pigeon, the dodo bird, and even the woolly mammoth, the loss may appear to be an emotional one. But is the loss practically important for the welfare of the human species? From the perspective of evolution and ecology, the loss of a particular individual species is unimportant (however, the loss of a keystone species can lead to ecological disaster). Extinction is a normal part of macroevolution. But the accelerated extinction rate means the loss of tens of thousands of species within our lifetimes, and it is likely to have dramatic effects on human welfare through the collapse of ecosystems and in added costs to maintain food production, clean air and water, and human health.

Agriculture began after early hunter-gatherer societies first settled in one place and heavily modified their immediate environment. This cultural transition has made it difficult for humans to recognize their dependence on undomesticated living things on the planet. Biologists recognize the human species is embedded in ecosystems and is dependent on them, just as every other species on the planet is dependent. Technology smoothes out the extremes of existence, but ultimately the human species cannot exist without its ecosystem.


47.2: The Importance of Biodiversity to Human Life - Biology

By the end of this section, you will be able to do the following:

  • Identify chemical diversity benefits to humans
  • Identify biodiversity components that support human agriculture
  • Describe ecosystem services

It may not be clear why biologists are concerned about biodiversity loss. When biodiversity loss is thought of as the extinction of the passenger pigeon, the dodo bird, and even the woolly mammoth, the loss may appear to be an emotional one. But is the loss practically important for the welfare of the human species? From the perspective of evolution and ecology, the loss of a particular individual species is unimportant (however, we should note that the loss of a keystone species can lead to ecological disaster). Extinction is a normal part of macroevolution. But the accelerated extinction rate translates into the loss of tens of thousands of species within our lifetimes, and it is likely to have dramatic effects on human welfare through the collapse of ecosystems and in added costs to maintain food production, clean air and water, and human health.

Agriculture began after early hunter-gatherer societies first settled in one place and heavily modified their immediate environment. This cultural transition has made it difficult for humans to recognize their dependence on undomesticated living things on the planet. Biologists recognize the human species is embedded in ecosystems and is dependent on them, just as every other species on the planet is dependent. Technology smooths out the extremes of existence, but ultimately the human species cannot exist without a supportive ecosystem.

Human Health

Archeological evidence indicates that humans have been using plants for medicinal uses for thousands of years. A Chinese document from approximately 2800 BC is believed to be the the first written account of herbal remedies, and such references occur throughout the global historical record. Contemporary indigenous societies that live close to the land often retain broad knowledge of the medicinal uses of plants growing in their area. Most plants produce secondary plant compounds, which are toxins used to protect the plant from insects and other animals that eat them, but some of which also work as medication.

Modern pharmaceutical science also recognizes the importance of these plant compounds. Examples of significant medicines derived from plant compounds include aspirin, codeine, digoxin, atropine, and vincristine ((Figure)). Many medicines were once derived from plant extracts but are now synthesized. It is estimated that, at one time, 25 percent of modern drugs contained at least one plant extract. That number has probably decreased to about 10 percent as natural plant ingredients are replaced by synthetic versions. Antibiotics, which are responsible for extraordinary improvements in health and lifespans in developed countries, are compounds largely derived from fungi and bacteria.

Figure 1. Catharanthus roseus, the Madagascar periwinkle, has various medicinal properties. Among other uses, it is a source of vincristine, a drug used in the treatment of lymphomas. (credit: Forest and Kim Starr)

In recent years, animal venoms and poisons have excited intense research for their medicinal potential. By 2007, the FDA had approved five drugs based on animal toxins to treat diseases such as hypertension, chronic pain, and diabetes. Another five drugs are undergoing clinical trials, and at least six drugs are being used in other countries. Other toxins under investigation come from mammals, snakes, lizards, various amphibians, fish, snails, octopuses, and scorpions.

Aside from representing billions of dollars in profits, these medicines improve people’s lives. Pharmaceutical companies are always looking for new compounds synthesized by living organisms that can function as medicines. It is estimated that 1/3 of pharmaceutical research and development is spent on natural compounds and that about 35 percent of new drugs brought to market between 1981 and 2002 were derived from natural compounds. The opportunities for new medications will be reduced in direct proportion to the disappearance of species.

Agricultural Diversity

Since the beginning of human agriculture more than 10,000 years ago, human groups have been breeding and selecting crop varieties. This crop diversity matched the cultural diversity of highly subdivided populations of humans. For example, potatoes were domesticated beginning around 7,000 years ago in the central Andes of Peru and Bolivia. The potatoes grown in that region belong to seven species and the number of varieties likely is in the thousands. Even the Inca capital of Machu Picchu had numerous gardens growing varieties of potatoes. Each variety has been bred to thrive at particular elevations and soil and climate conditions. The diversity is driven by the diverse demands of the topography, the limited movement of people, and the demands created by crop rotation for different varieties that will do well in different fields.

Potatoes are only one example of human-generated diversity. Every plant, animal, and fungus that has been cultivated by humans has been bred from original wild ancestor species into diverse varieties arising from the demands for food value, adaptation to growing conditions, and resistance to pests.

The potato also demonstrates risks of low crop diversity. The tragic Irish potato famine occurred when the single variety grown in Ireland became susceptible to a potato blight, wiping out the entire crop. The loss of the potato crop led to mass famine and the related deaths of over one million people, as well as mass emigration of nearly two million people.

Disease resistance is a chief benefit of crop biodiversity, and lack of diversity in contemporary crop species carries similar risks. Seed companies, which are the source of most crop varieties in developed countries, must continually breed new varieties to keep up with evolving pest organisms. These same seed companies, however, have participated in the decline of the number of varieties available as they focus on selling fewer varieties in more areas of the world.

The ability to create new crop varieties relies on the diversity of varieties available and the accessibility of wild forms related to the crop plant. These wild forms are often the source of new gene variants that can be bred with existing varieties to create varieties with new attributes. Loss of wild species related to a crop will mean the loss of potential in crop improvement. Maintaining the genetic diversity of wild species related to domesticated species ensures our continued food supply.

Since the 1920s, government agriculture departments have maintained seed banks of crop varieties as a way of maintaining crop diversity. This system has flaws because, over time, seed banks are lost through accidents, and there is no way to replace them. In 2008, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault ((Figure)) began storing seeds from around the world as a backup system to the regional seed banks. If a regional seed bank stores varieties in Svalbard, losses can be replaced from Svalbard. Conditions within the vault are maintained at ideal temperature and humidity for seed survival, but the deep underground location of the vault in the arctic means that failure of the vault’s systems will not compromise the climatic conditions inside the vault.

Art Connection

Figure 2. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a storage facility for seeds of Earth’s diverse crops. (credit: Mari Tefre, Svalbard Global Seed Vault)

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located on Spitsbergen island in Norway, which has an arctic climate. Why might an arctic climate be good for seed storage?

The ground is permanently frozen so the seeds will keep even if the electricity fails.

Crop success is largely dependent on the quality of the soil. Although some agricultural soils are rendered sterile using controversial cultivation and chemical treatments, most contain a huge diversity of organisms that maintain nutrient cycles—breaking down organic matter into nutrient compounds that crops need for growth. These organisms also maintain soil texture that affects water and oxygen dynamics in the soil that are necessary for plant growth. If farmers had to maintain arable soil using alternate means, the cost of food would be much higher than it is now. These kinds of processes are called ecosystem services. They occur within ecosystems, such as soil ecosystems, as a result of the diverse metabolic activities of the organisms living there, but they provide benefits to human food production, drinking water availability, and breathable air.

Plant pollination is another key ecosystem service, provided by various species of bees, other insects, and birds. One estimate indicates that honey bee pollination provides the United States a $1.6 billion annual benefit.

Honey bee populations in North America have been suffering large losses caused by a syndrome known as colony collapse disorder, whose cause is unclear. (Evidence suggests the possible culprits may be the invasive varroa mite coupled with the Nosema gut parasite and acute paralysis virus.) Loss of these species would render it very difficult, if not impossible, to grow any of the 150 United States crops requiring pollination, including grapes, oranges, lemons, peppers, most brassica (broccoli and cauliflower), and many berries, melons, and nuts.

Finally, humans compete for their food with crop pests, most of which are insects. Pesticides control these competitors however, pesticides are costly and lose their effectiveness over time as pest populations adapt and evolve. They also lead to collateral damage by killing non-pest species and risking the health of consumers and agricultural workers. Ecologists believe that the bulk of the work in removing pests is actually done by predators and parasites of those pests, but the impact has not been well studied. A review found that in 74 percent of studies that looked for an effect of landscape complexity on natural enemies of pests, the greater the complexity, the greater the effect of pest-suppressing organisms. An experimental study found that introducing multiple enemies of pea aphids (an important alfalfa pest) increased the yield of alfalfa significantly. This study shows the importance of landscape diversity via the question of whether a diversity of pests is more effective at control than one single pest the results showed this to be the case. Loss of diversity in pest enemies will inevitably make it more difficult and costly to grow food.

Wild Food Sources

In addition to growing crops and raising animals for food, humans obtain food resources from wild populations, primarily fish populations. In fact, for approximately 1 billion people worldwide, aquatic resources provide the main source of animal protein. But since 1990, global fish production has declined, sometimes dramatically. Unfortunately, and despite considerable effort, few fisheries on the planet are managed for sustainability.

Fishery extinctions rarely lead to complete extinction of the harvested species, but rather to a radical restructuring of the marine ecosystem in which a dominant species is so over-harvested that it becomes a minor player, ecologically. In addition to humans losing the food source, these alterations affect many other species in ways that are difficult or impossible to predict. The collapse of fisheries has dramatic and long-lasting effects on local populations that work in the fishery. In addition, the loss of an inexpensive protein source to populations that cannot afford to replace it will increase the cost of living and limit societies in other ways. In general, the fish taken from fisheries have shifted to smaller species as larger species are fished to extinction. The ultimate outcome could clearly be the loss of aquatic systems as food sources.

Link to Learning

View a brief video discussing declining fish stocks.

Psychological and Moral Value

Finally, it has been clearly shown that humans benefit psychologically from living in a biodiverse world. A chief proponent of this idea is Harvard entomologist E. O. Wilson. He argues that human evolutionary history has adapted us to live in a natural environment and that city environments generate psychological stressors that affect human health and well-being. There is considerable research into the psychological regenerative benefits of natural landscapes that suggests the hypothesis may hold some truth. In addition, there is a moral argument that humans have a responsibility to inflict as little harm as possible on other species.

Section Summary

Humans use many compounds that were first discovered or derived from living organisms as medicines: secondary plant compounds, animal toxins, and antibiotics produced by bacteria and fungi. More medicines will undoubtedly be discovered in nature. Loss of biodiversity will impact the number of pharmaceuticals available to humans.

Crop diversity is a requirement for food security, and it is being lost. The loss of wild relatives to crops also threatens breeders’ abilities to create new varieties. Ecosystems provide ecosystem services that support human agriculture: pollination, nutrient cycling, pest control, and soil development and maintenance. Loss of biodiversity threatens these ecosystem services and risks making food production more expensive or impossible. Wild food sources are mainly aquatic, but few of these resources are being managed for sustainability. Fisheries’ ability to provide protein to human populations is threatened when extinction occurs.

Biodiversity may provide important psychological benefits to humans. Additionally, there are moral arguments for the maintenance of biodiversity.

Art Connections

(Figure) The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located on Spitsbergen island in Norway, which has an arctic climate. Why might an arctic climate be good for seed storage?

(Figure) The ground is permanently frozen so the seeds will keep even if the electricity fails.

Review Questions

A secondary plant compound might be used for which of the following?

  1. a new crop variety
  2. a new drug
  3. a soil nutrient
  4. a pest of a crop pest

Pollination is an example of ________.

  1. a possible source of new drugs
  2. chemical diversity
  3. an ecosystem service
  4. crop pest control

What is an ecosystem service that performs the same function as a pesticide?

  1. pollination
  2. secondary plant compounds
  3. crop diversity
  4. predators of pests

Free Response

Explain how biodiversity loss can impact crop diversity.

Crop plants are derived from wild plants, and genes from wild relatives are frequently brought into crop varieties by plant breeders to add valued characteristics to the crops. If the wild species are lost, then this genetic variation would no longer be available.

Describe two types of compounds from living things that are used as medications.

Secondary plant compounds are toxins produced by plants to kill predators trying to eat them some of these compounds can be used as drugs. Animal toxins such as snake venom can also be used as drugs. (Alternate answer: antibiotics are compounds produced by bacteria and fungi which can be used to kill bacteria.)


Human Health

Contemporary societies that live close to the land often have a broad knowledge of the medicinal uses of plants growing in their area. Most plants produce secondary plant compounds, which are toxins used to protect the plant from insects and other animals that eat them, but some of which also work as medication. For centuries in Europe, older knowledge about the medical uses of plants was compiled in herbals—books that identified plants and their uses. Humans are not the only species to use plants for medicinal reasons: the great apes, orangutans, chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas have all been observed self-medicating with plants.

Modern pharmaceutical science also recognizes the importance of these plant compounds. Examples of significant medicines derived from plant compounds include aspirin, codeine, digoxin, atropine, and vincristine (Figure). Many medicines were once derived from plant extracts but are now synthesized. It is estimated that, at one time, 25 percent of modern drugs contained at least one plant extract. That number has probably decreased to about 10 percent as natural plant ingredients are replaced by synthetic versions. Antibiotics, which are responsible for extraordinary improvements in health and lifespans in developed countries, are compounds largely derived from fungi and bacteria.

Catharanthus roseus, the Madagascar periwinkle, has various medicinal properties. Among other uses, it is a source of vincristine, a drug used in the treatment of lymphomas. (credit: Forest and Kim Starr)

In recent years, animal venoms and poisons have excited intense research for their medicinal potential. By 2007, the FDA had approved five drugs based on animal toxins to treat diseases such as hypertension, chronic pain, and diabetes. Another five drugs are undergoing clinical trials, and at least six drugs are being used in other countries. Other toxins under investigation come from mammals, snakes, lizards, various amphibians, fish, snails, octopuses, and scorpions.

Aside from representing billions of dollars in profits, these medicines improve people’s lives. Pharmaceutical companies are actively looking for new compounds synthesized by living organisms that can function as medicine. It is estimated that 1/3 of pharmaceutical research and development is spent on natural compounds and that about 35 percent of new drugs brought to market between 1981 and 2002 were from natural compounds. The opportunities for new medications will be reduced in direct proportion to the disappearance of species.


Importance of Biodiversity

There are numerous reasons deeming biodiversity significant. One overriding importance is that biodiversity is responsible for the continuity of the planet because it supports majority of the vital environmental life cycles such as the oxygen cycle, the water cycle, and the nitrogen cycle just to mention a few. With between 3 and 30 million species on earth, here are the reasons why they are important.

Because of the availability of different species, humans are able to obtain a range of materials and foods used to support their well-being and health. The various foods such as fish, meat, vegetables, fruits, and cereals are all available because of the planet’s biodiversity.

Through biological diversity, scientists have made significant advances in medical discoveries and have found cures to several diseases. All this has been possible because of research into the various animal and plant genetics as well as biology. 80% of vaccines and drugs used in prevention and treatment respectively are from the world’s biodiversity.

Biodiversity makes life livable on Earth by playing an important role in offering ecological services. The ecological services include air purification, replenishing and cleaning water systems, absorbing chemicals, stabilizing climate, recycling nutrients, and forming and protecting the soil. Crucial life cycles such as the water cycle and the nitrogen cycle are all determined by biodiversity.

Biological resources supply the numerous industrial raw materials including rubber, cotton, leather, food, paper, timber, water, and fiber. These resources are then used by the industries to process and manufacture different products for human and other uses.

Biodiversity provides a “wonder” of how things are amazingly inspiring, beautiful, and diverse in nature. Simply because of this, biodiversity promotes recreational activities such as fishing, bird watching, mountain climbing, and game visits that lead to tourism. Biodiversity also influences cultural values as it inspires people in different ways and determines certain lifestyle orientations. Biological education and research are as a result of the existing biodiversity.

It is because of diversity in genetic makeup that plants and animals are able to adapt and adjust to respective environmental changes. The genetic diversity, for instance, helps species to fight diseases.


Biodiversity and Health

Photo Credit: Clipart.com

Introduction

Biodiversity refers to the variety of life forms, not just to rare and endangered forms of life, nor just to big, attractive animals and plants. It includes every living thing&mdashthe common, the ordinary, the ugly, and even those organisms invisible to the naked eye. Also, biodiversity refers to more than individual species. It includes the genes they contain, and the ecosystems and habitats of which they form part.

So, biodiversity can be considered at three levels:

  • genetic - that is, the differences between the genes of particular species
  • species - where a particular variety of animal or plant may occur in many different shapes, sizes, and colors
  • ecosystem - where a habitat contains a number of species which depend on each other

Biodiversity is essential for supporting human life on earth. The health of the natural environment depends on continuing diversity for instance, if one species is lost from an ecosystem, then all the other species in that ecosystem are affected. Biodiversity also is important for ensuring agricultural productivity and for the ongoing sustainable use of natural resources. Further, biological diversity ensures clean air and water, and fertile soils.

Exploration

Now it is your turn to find out more about biodiversity. Visit What is Biodiversity? for background knowledge on biodiversity. You can return to this resource whenever you feel that you need to refresh you understanding of the topic.

Next read the following articles about biodiversity and human disease. For each article, take notes so that you will be able to respond to the questions found below:

When you are done, answer the questions in your own words in a paragraph-length response. Provide examples of each.

  1. According to the article &ldquoTipping the Scale: The Delicate Balance Between Microbes and Man,&rdquo what are the benefits of biodiversity?
  2. How can a change in the environment lead to a change in disease behavior?
  3. What role does human activity play in environmental changes that affect biodiversity?

Knowledge Check

Write a brief essay explaining the possible effect of human activities on the emergence of &ldquonew&rdquo diseases and the resurgence of established ones with regards to these issues:

  1. Climate Change
  2. Travel, Migration, and International Trade
  3. Warfare and Social Disruption
  4. Urbanization

Your essay should use explicitly stated information from the articles you have read. It should connect ideas within the articles, and identify and evaluate relevant information that you have found.

Try This At Home

Biodiversity and Human Health, an extensive Web resource from the Ecological Society of America, provides in-depth coverage of the issues presented in this lesson. Topics include biodiversity maintenance and resource management, conservation programs and sustainable development, wellness care and preventative medicine vs. managed for-profit care, human population control vs. emerging infectious diseases, and more.

Biodiversity and Conservation is an online hypertext book that draws together resources from all over the Web to present a comprehensive and highly informative introduction to the topic of biodiversity.

AAAS Atlas of Population and the Environment contains the text for the book published by AAAS. It is an important analysis of the relationships between human population and the environment. Illustrating through text, maps, and diagrams how population affects the world's ecosystems and natural resources both in the short and long term, the Atlas brings together a wealth of information from the most up-to-date sources.


Center for Biodiversity & Conservation

The Center for Biodiversity and Conservation (CBC) transforms knowledge—from diverse sources and perspectives, and spanning areas of scientific research as well as traditional and local knowledge—into conservation action. We seek to advance diversity, inclusion, and equity in the field of conservation towards a culturally vibrant conservation workforce. Read more about what biodiversity is and why it's important, how we work to conserve it, and the impact of our work.

News and announcements about the CBC and our programs and events.

The 12th annual Student Conference on Conservation Science - New York will take place Oct. 5-8, 2021.

Support the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation’s efforts, from researching resilience in biocultural systems, to working with local conservation groups to create protected areas, and developing and sharing resources to support conservation professionals. We depend on the support of friends like you!

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The Most Biodiverse Places on the Planet: Scientists Discover Secret Behind Earth’s Biodiversity Hotspots

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Rhodes Drive, Newlands, Cape Town, South Africa.

Researchers have discovered why the tropics and a handful of other areas across the globe have become the most biodiverse places on the planet.

The research suggests that biodiversity hotspots – such as the Daintree Rainforest in Australia and the Cloud Forests of Ecuador – are teeming with species because they have been ecologically stable for long periods of time, allowing evolution to forge ahead undisturbed.

A King Protea. Credit: Colin Beale

The findings highlight the threat posed by climate change to some of the most extraordinary places on earth and the importance of giving nature the protection it needs to thrive, the authors of the study say.

Non-tropical heartland

Ecologists have long sought to understand why some areas of the planet are extraordinarily rich in species. The research set out to find an answer by focusing on the Cape Floristic Region in South Africa, a non-tropical heartland of biodiversity with around ten times as many native plant species as the UK, squeezed into an area a little smaller than Belgium.

The international team of researchers – including scientists from the University of York (UK), Nelson Mandela University and the University of Cape Town – mapped the distributions of nearly all of the region’s 9400 plant species, from the king protea to the red disa.

Proteas in Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens with natural vegetation on Table Mountain behind. Credit: Colin Beale

They found that the region’s richness could be largely explained by the fact it had not experienced major changes in its climate over the past 140,000 years.

Thronging variety of life

Previous scientific theories have suggested productivity – where large amounts of energy flow through an ecosystem – might explain biodiversity hotspots, but the researchers found this only played a minor role in the Cape Floristic Region’s thronging variety of life.

Co-author of the study, Dr. Colin Beale from the Department of Biology at the University of York, said: “Our research focussed on the incredible diversity of the Cape Floristic Region because the competing theories of stability versus productivity can’t be untangled in the tropics, where both are true.

“Exceptions often clarify the rule and our research shows that the environmental history of a place is important to its levels of biodiversity.

The forked watsonia. Credit: Richard Cowling

“The results suggest that climatic variation will not affect the biodiversity of all regions evenly. The impact of climate change may be greater on areas where stability has been the norm over extremely long time periods. Similarly, near major ecological boundaries, such as forest to grasslands or shrublands to semi-desert, climate change is likely to cause major, long-lasting loss of biological diversity.”

Rugged topography

Senior author, Dr. Richard Cowling from Nelson Mandela University, added: “The extraordinary diversity of the Cape Floristic Region – as rich as the most diverse tropical forest regions – contradicts the long-held theory that high productivity is a requisite for high plant diversity.

“Our study shows that the environmental stability of south-western South Africa, in conjunction with the region’s rugged topography, explains diversity gradients in the region. The same hypotheses can explain tropical diversity there is no need to invoke productivity.”

Lead author, Dr. Jonathan Colville from the University of Cape Town said: “In South Africa we are fortunate to not only have incredible biodiversity, but also a uniquely detailed knowledge of where these plants are found, thanks to the collections at SANBI (South African Biodiversity Institute).

“This rich resource enabled us to pull together an interdisciplinary team from South Africa and the UK to tackle one of the most challenging questions in ecology and highlights how important international collaborations are to the future success of South African research and the conservation of its biodiversity.”

Reference: “Plant richness, turnover, and evolutionary diversity track gradients of stability and ecological opportunity in a megadiversity center” by Jonathan F. Colville, Colin M. Beale, Félix Forest, Res Altwegg, Brian Huntley and Richard M. Cowling, 5 August 2020, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1915646117


2.1 What are the main links between biodiversity and human well-being?

      Food security Vulnerability Health Energy security Provision of clean water Social relations Freedom of choice and action Basic materials for a good life and sustainable livelihoods

    The source document for this Digest states:

    The MA identifies biodiversity and the many ecosystem services that it provides as a key instrumental and constitutive factor determining human well-being. The MA findings support, with high certainty, that biodiversity loss and deteriorating ecosystem services contribute—directly or indirectly—to worsening health, higher food insecurity, increasing vulnerability, lower material wealth, worsening social relations, and less freedom for choice and action.

    2.1.1 Food security

    The source document for this Digest states:

    Biological diversity is used by many rural communities directly as an insurance and coping mechanism to increase flexibility and spread or reduce risk in the face of increasing uncertainty, shocks, and surprises. The availability of this biological “safety net” has increased the security and resilience of some local communities to external economic and ecological perturbations, shocks, or surprises ( C6.2.2, C8.2 ). In a world where fluctuating commodity prices are more the norm than the exception, economic entitlements of the poor are increasingly becoming precarious. The availability of an ecosystem-based food security net during times when economic entitlements are insufficient to purchase adequate nourishment in the market provides an important insurance program ( C8.1, C6.7 ).

    Coping mechanisms based on indigenous plants are particularly important for the most vulnerable people, who have little access to formal employment, land, or market opportunities ( C6 ). For example, investigations of two dryland sites in Kenya and Tanzania report local communities using wild indigenous plants to provide alternative sources of food when harvests failed or when sudden expenses had to be met (such as a hospital bill). (See Table 2.1 )

    Table 2.1. Percentage of Households Dependent on Indigenous Plant–based Coping Mechanisms at Kenyan and Tanzanian Site ( C6 Table 6.4)

    Another pathway through which biodiversity can improve food security is the adoption of farming practices that maintain and make use of agricultural biodiversity. Biodiversity is important to maintaining agricultural production. Wild relatives of domestic crops provide genetic variability that can be crucial for overcoming outbreaks of pests and pathogens and new environ­mental stresses. Many agricultural communities consider increased local diversity a critical factor for the long-term productivity and viability of their agricultural systems. For example, interweaving multiple varieties of rice in the same paddy has been shown to increase productivity by lowering the loss from pests and pathogens

    2.1.2 Vulnerability

    The source document for this Digest states:

    The world is experiencing an increase in human suffering and economic losses from natural disasters over the past several decades. Mangrove forests and coral reefs—a rich source of biodiversity—are excellent natural buffers against floods and storms. Their loss or reduction in coverage has increased the severity of flooding on coastal communities. Floods affect more people (140 million per year on average) than all other natural or technological disasters put together. Over the past four decades, the number of “great” disasters has increased by a factor of four, while economic losses have increased by a factor of ten. During the 1990s, countries low on the Human Development Index experienced about 20% of the hazard events and reported over 50% of the deaths and just 5% of economic losses. Those with high rankings on the index accounted for over 50% of the total economic losses and less than 2% of the deaths ( C6 , R11 , C16 ).

    A common finding from the various sub-global assessments was that many people living in rural areas cherish and promote ecosystem variability and diversity as a risk management strategy against shocks and surprises ( SG11 ). They maintain a diversity of ecosystem services and are skeptical about solutions that reduce their options. The sub-global assessments found that diversity of species, food, and landscapes serve as “savings banks” that rural communities use to cope with change and ensure sustainable livelihoods (see Peruvian, Portuguese, Costa Rican, and India sub-global assessments).

    2.1.3 Health

    The source document for this Digest states:

    An important component of health is a balanced diet. About 7,000 species of plants and several hundred species of animals have been used for human food consumption at one time or another. Some indigenous and traditional communities currently consume 200 or more species. Wild sources of food remain particularly important for the poor and landless to provide a somewhat balanced diet ( C6, C8.2.2 ). Overexploitation of marine fisheries worldwide, and of bushmeat in many areas of the tropics, has lead to a reduction in the availability of wild-caught animal protein, with serious consequences in many countries for human health ( C4.3.4 ).

    Human health, particularly risk of exposure to many infectious diseases, may depend on the maintenance of biodiversity in natural ecosystems. On the one hand, a greater diversity of wildlife species might be expected to sustain a greater diversity of pathogens that can infect humans. However, evidence is accumulating that greater wildlife diversity may decrease the spread of many wildlife pathogens to humans. The spread of Lyme disease, the best-studied case, seems to be decreased by the maintenance of the biotic integrity of natural ecosystems ( C11, C14 ).

    2.1.4 Energy security

    The source document for this Digest states:

    Wood fuel provides more than half the energy used in developing countries. Even in industrial countries such as Sweden and the United States, wood supplies 17% and 3% of total energy consumption respectively. In some African countries, such as Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda, wood fuel accounts for 80% of total energy consumption ( SG-SAfMA ). In rural areas, 95% is consumed in the form of firewood, while in urban areas 85% is in the form of charcoal. Shortage of wood fuel occurs in areas with high population density without access to alternative and affordable energy sources. In some provinces of Zambia where population densities exceed the national average of 13.7 persons per square kilometer, the demand for wood has already surpassed local supply. In such areas, people are vulnerable to illness and malnutrition because of the lack of resources to heat homes, cook food, and boil water. Women and children in rural poor communities are the ones most affected by wood fuel scarcity. They must walk long distances searching for firewood and therefore have less time for tending crops and school ( C9.4 ).

    2.1.5 Provision of clean water

    The source document for this Digest states:

    The continued loss of cloud forests and the destruction of watersheds reduce the quality and availability of water supplied to household use and agriculture. The availability of clean drinking water is a concern in dozens of the world’s largest cities ( C27 ). In one of the best documented cases, New York City took steps to protect the integrity of watersheds in the Catskills to ensure continued provision of clean drinking water to 9 million people. Protecting the ecosystem was shown to be far more cost-effective than building and operating a water filtration plant. New York City avoided $6–8 billion in expenses by protecting its watersheds ( C7 , R17 ).

    2.1.6 Social relations

    The source document for this Digest states:

    Many cultures attach spiritual and religious values to ecosystems or their components such as a tree, hill, river, or grove ( C17 ). Thus loss or damage to these components can harm social relations—for example, by impeding religious and social ceremonies that normally bind people. (See Box 2.1 ) Damage to ecosystems, highly valued for their aesthetic, recreational, or spiritual values can damage social relations, both by reducing the bonding value of shared experience as well as by causing resentment toward groups that profit from their damage ( S11 , SG10 ).

    2.1.7 Freedom of choice and action

    The source document for this Digest states:

    Freedom of choice and action within the MA context refers to individuals having control over what happens and being able to achieve what they value ( CF3 ). Loss of biodiversity often means a loss of choices. Local fishers depend on man­groves as breeding grounds for local fish populations. Loss of mangroves translates to a loss in control over the local fish stock and a livelihood they have been pursuing for many generations and that they value. Another example is high-diversity agricultural systems. These systems normally produce less cash than monoculture cash crops, but farmers have some control over their entitlements because of spreading risk through diversity. High diversity of genotypes, populations, species, functional types, and spatial patches decreases the negative effects of pests and pathogens on crops and keeps open possibilities for agrarian communities to develop crops suited to future environmental challenges and to increase their resilience to climate variability and market fluctuations ( C11 ).

    Another dimension of choices relates to the future. The loss of biodiversity in some instances is irreversible, and the value individuals place on keeping biodiversity for future generations—the option value—can be significant ( CF6 , C2 ). The notion of having choices available irrespective of whether any of them will be actually picked is an essential constituent of the freedom aspect of well-being. However, putting a monetary figure on option values is notoriously difficult. We can only postulate on the needs and desires of future generations, some of which can be very different from today’s aspirations.

    2.1.8 Basic materials for a good life and sustainable livelihoods

    The source document for this Digest states:

    Biodiversity offers directly the various goods—often plants, animals, and fungi—that individuals need in order to earn an income and secure sustainable livelihoods. In addition, it also contributes to livelihoods through the support it provides for ecosystem services: the agricultural labor force currently contains approximately 22% of the world’s population and accounts for 46% of its total labor force ( C26.5.1 ). For example, apples are a major cash crop in the Himalayan region in India, accounting for 60–80% of total household income ( SG3 ). The region is also rich in honeybee diversity, which played a significant role in pollinating field crops and wild plants, thereby increasing productivity and sustaining ecosystem functions. In the early 1980s, market demand for particular types of apples led farmers to uproot pollinated varieties and plant new, sterile cultivars. The pollinator populations were also negatively affected by excessive use of pesticides. The result was a reduction in overall apple productivity and the extinction of many natural pollinator species ( SG3 ).

    Nature-based tourism (“ecotourism”)—one of the fastest-growing segments of tourism worldwide—is a particularly important economic sector in a number of countries and a potential income source for many rural communities ( C17.2.6 ). The aggregate revenue generated by nature-based tourism in Southern Africa was estimated to be $3.6 billion in 2000, roughly 50% of total tourism revenue ( SG-SAfMA ). Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimba­bwe each generated over $100 million in revenue annually from nature-based tourism in 2000. In Tanzania, tourism contributed 30% of the total GDP of the country.

    Biodiversity also contributes to a range of other industries, including pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and horticulture. Market trends vary widely according to the industry and country involved but many bioprospecting activities and revenues are expected to increase over the next decades ( C10 ). The current economic climate suggests that pharmaceutical bioprospecting will increase, especially as new methods use evolutionary andecological knowledge.

    Losses of biodiversity can impose substantial costs at local and national scales. For example, the collapse of the Newfoundland cod fishery in the early 1990s cost tens of thousands of jobs, as well as at least $2 billion in income support and retraining. Recent evidence suggests that the preservation of the integrity of local biological communities, both in terms of the identity and the number of species, is important for the maintenance of plant and animal productivity, soil fertility, and their stability in the face of a changing environment ( C11 ). Recent estimates from the MA Portugal sub-global assessment indicate that environmental expenses in that country are increasing at a rate of 3% a year and are presently 0.7% of GDP ( SG-Portugal ).


    Importance of Wildlife Elsewhere

    Besides basic survival and global health, wildlife plays an important role in other facets of life like economics and recreation.

    A lot of cultures sustain themselves on the buying and selling of animal products or the animals themselves. Leather and fur are hot commodities, but so are goats and cows. In some communities these animals can be bartered in exchange for goods and services. Unfortunately, some wildlife dependent economics revolve around illegal industries like poaching. Poaching involves the unethical and highly illegal slaughtering of endangered or regulated animals – like elephants for their ivory tusks. Additionally, gardeners and farmers world-wide enjoy running businesses based on their ability to grow plants, flowers, food and market them to the public. Get started in your own gardening venture by taking this course on Organic Soil Growing.

    On the flip side of illegal hunting (poaching) there is the legal kind of hunt. Game hunting is a widely enjoyed past time for many people around the world. Often the animals are used for their meat and hides, or their heads for trophies. While this sounds a bit sinister, hunting is actually a really resourceful way of population control. We discussed above about how out of control wildlife populations can wreak havoc on ecosystems and hunting is a well-organized solution to this problem. In many states hunters must register and receive tags for the animals they are hoping to shoot. This system provides a way for conservationists and biologists to monitor the current populations of certain animals while attaining population goals through legal hunting. In Bucks County, Pennsylvania the deer population is soaring. There are 8 bucks (male deer) to every doe (female deer) and the population is beginning to cause issues for the habitat (plant life is being destroyed) and for civilization (higher frequency of deer related car accidents).

    Additional benefits to wildlife include bird watching, photography, fishing, hiking and the general aesthetics of living in a natural world. Want to be a wildlife photographer? Learn how to get close to these animals in Wildlife Photography.


    Watch the video: Importance of Biodiversity (June 2022).


Comments:

  1. Adkyn

    We are sorry that they interfere… But they are very close to the theme.

  2. Padraig

    In my opinion, he is wrong.



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