Thanks to elementary science, most of us have been fairly acquainted with the concept of biodiversity: the existence of plants and other organisms in an ecosystem. However, the notion is often relegated to faraway places, not our immediate surroundings. But what if we told you that biodiversity is directly responsible for the water you drink and the air you breathe? And that its stability is currently under threat? In order to truly understand the importance of biodiversity for the existence of human life, it is necessary to go back to the basics. Will you join us on this journey?
What biodiversity actually means
The term was originally coined in 1985, serving as an amalgamation of the words ‘biological diversity’. Today, it refers to the existence of varied species of plants, animals and other microorganisms. This means that everything from underwater coral reefs to deserts and rainforests are contributing to the existence of a biologically diverse planet. Experts define biodiversity as, “The variation among living organisms from different sources, including terrestrial, marine and desert ecosystems.” In terms of cold, hard facts, what does this biodiversity look like? Around 1.7 million species of animals, plants and fungi have been filed on record, and it is likely that another 8-9 million are yet to be discovered. That makes for a mind-boggling number of species to share the planet with.
Why biodiversity is important for the planet
Sure, the existence of varied kinds of living organisms is a good concept in an ideal world, but why is ours under threat and why should you be more concerned about it? Here’s a closer look at what the absence of thriving biodiversity can mean for the planet that we call home.
Biodiversity creates flourishing ecosystems
It is an established fact that humans rely on natural ecosystems for a host of services, from freshwater, food and medicine to soil fertility and pollution absorption. These services that we avail for free from nature can actually be credited to the varied species in the ecosystem — every single plant, insect and microorganism has a crucial role to play in ensuring the circle of life.
Biodiversity sustains life
The obvious implications of ecosystems on human life aren’t lost on anyone — without plants and oceans, there wouldn’t be any oxygen to breathe. However, the connections go much deeper. For example, if bees didn’t pollinate, we wouldn’t have fruits. You could pick up any ecosystem in the world and find that every single species has an indispensable role to play. For instance, in tropical regions, fruit-eating animals, like monkeys, are responsible for dispersing seeds. This, in turn, leads to the flourishing of hardwood trees that are most effective at soaking up carbon dioxide from the air.
Biodiversity ensures survival
Beyond just providing sustenance in terms of the food we eat and the water we drink, thriving ecosystems also shoulder greater responsibility for mankind. Coral reefs and mangroves play an invaluable role as the first line of defence against natural disasters. It is estimated that coral reefs protect 200 million people by breaking up waves and providing a barrier that shields life and property during the occurrence of natural disasters.
It is easy to conclude that biodiversity is crucial for our very survival. However, it is also under greater threat than ever before with the rise of mass extinctions that lead to entire species being wiped from the planet irreversibly. While meteoric disasters and volcanic eruptions were responsible for past extinctions, the one currently underway is being caused by humankind. Experts have often described the impact of our ever-increasing consumption on biodiversity as ‘burning through the library of life.’ Professor David Macdonald of Oxford University reiterates, “Without biodiversity, there is no future for humanity.” The easiest way to then look at biodiversity is as the jigsaw of life. Pull out one piece and the picture will never be the same again.