Why is Biodiversity so important?
Christine M. Yukech Spring 2014
Biodiversity affects each and every one of us in a unique and diverse way. If you think for a minute about the food we eat and how it is grown and delivered, to the cars we drive via hybrid or diesel, how we heat our homes, solar, natural gas, a pot belly stove, solar or geothermal, to pharmaceutical and health and beauty choices. It would be interesting to discover how many people are gathering their food, energy, health and beauty products in an all natural sustainably friendly way.
I have traveled on field studies to areas of the world where the agriculture is in abundance but the cost of getting to it is another story. The use of natural resources and delivery methods are not the same as they are in America. The quest for fresh food, water and electricity and heat in some regions of the world are a lot harder to get to and the cost is more than a weeks wage for the people that live there. In some of the most biodiverse areas of the world, the cost of gas, water and electricity make it virtually impossible for the people to afford the abundance or lack of abundance that they are surrounded by. Unless they are lucky enough to own property where they can live such as the cloud forests on the Pacific side of Central America and exchange products among their neighbors they are most likely not going to benefit. This would make one want to learn all about the methods to create new ways for growing food or capturing electricity and health beauty needs.
The definition and biology content within biodiversity
The term biodiversity refers to the range of variations within the living world. It sometimes is used to describe the number or variability of living organisms. If we look within the content in biology for a definition we would look into the productivity in nutrient retention, temporal scales, and ways to prevent soil erosion, and how diversity begets diversity. We will also have to look into how to measure species richness and abundance or loss.
The management of biodiversity and understanding the sequence and scope of the term biodiversity loss requires one to be able to ability to compare and contrast the quantitative and quantitative measurements from local, national and international research and interpret the context of social and ecological pressures and epistemologies of the people who live in those regions. In order to do that one has to be able to code the variables concepts and values of the data being collected across the various sectors of biodiversity in content and within socio-cultural groups and scientific research to communicate methods to increase social awareness and resolutions for nutrient management and viable ecological services. One should also be able to address the axiology, values and belief systems of the meaning making from the scientists, teachers, every day people, and local, national and international groups.
Biodiversity Loss and Its Importance to Humanity
To address biodiversity loss we must look into the global issues that indicate negative trends with no significant reduction in the rate of decline. Action to implement the Convention of Biological diversity has not been taken on sufficient scales to reduce the pressures of biodiversity in most places. The broader policies, strategies and policies that point to the underlying drivers have not been addressed significantly. Biodiversity receives a fraction of the funding to repair the loss as compared to infrastructure and industrial developments. Also, biodiversity requirements and considerations are mainly ignored with the start up of most industrial developments. Actions to address the drivers of the loss include demographics, economic, technical, socio-political and cultural pressures in meaningful ways have also been limited. Most of the future predictions include high levels of extinction, loss of habitats throughout this century and the decline of ecosystem services important to the human well being.
Each ecosystem and community has highly organized and disciplined pathways for their optimal health and survival techniques. As we capture and compress the ecosystem in ways that are not customary or natural the net loss begins to effect the viability of all living species on the planet. If we take the angle of researching about “biodiversity loss “ and we find many studies looking into the historical significance, functions, the capture or loss of nutrients, a method for understanding and separating the elements of species richness, genetic habitability, ecosystem health and the services the ecosystems provide and the services the ecosystems provide.
Statistics from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report the following species are threatened with extinction;
- 1 out of every 8 birds
- 1 out of 4 mammals
- 1 out of 4 conifers
- 1 out of every 3 amphibians
- 6 out of 7 marine turtles
- 75% of genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost
- 75% of the World’s fisheries are fully or over exploited
- Up to 70% of the worlds known species risk extinction if the global temperatures rise by more than 3.5 %
- 1/3 rd of reef building corals around the world are threatened with extinction
- Over 350 million people suffer from severe water scarcity
According to E. O . Wilson we are in the 6th stage of extinction. Many species could be vanished by the year 2020 due to the lack of preservation and conservation efforts. The estimates of the quantitative relations between the area of habitats and the diversity that the habitats can withhold. When certain groups of organisms are studied more closely, such as snails, fish and flowering plants, the extinction rates are more intense.
The economics of Biodiversity
In one case study reported that protecting and replanting mangrove swamps in Vietnam alone cost $1.1 million, this type of investment reduced the spending on dyke maintenance by seven times as much each year.
It is very difficult to put a price tag on biodiversity because it is a priceless commodity. The scientists behind The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study (TEEB) admit frustration that most mainstream economists are blind to the value of biodiversity. “Conservation has to be seen as an investment and not a cost,” says Rudolf de Groot of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, one of the lead authors of the study.
TEEB was initiated at the 2007 G8 summit, in Germany. “It aims to do for biodiversity what the Stern report did for the economics of climate change,” says de Groot. The group will launch the first part of its work – a report called The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: Ecological and Economic Foundations – at a UN summit on biodiversity in Nagoya, Japan.
The study evaluated cash values for biomes ranging from tropical rain forests to Arctic tundra, based on the services they provide to humanity. Coral reefs come in top, and are valued at up to $1.2 million per hectare per year, mostly reflecting the tourism income they provide. By moderating extreme events like storms, the group estimates each hectare of reef saves $34,000 per year, on average.
According to the TEEB or the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity backed by the UN and various European governments, attempts to build a compelling case for the conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity tried to put an order together for people to understand the magnitude of the issue of how important the environment is to humanity and what the costs in doing something or not doing something. The market sectors depending on genetic resources include;
Sector Size of Market Comment
Pharmaceutical US $640 bn. 25-50% derived from genetic resources
Biotechnology US $70 billion derived from genetic resources
Agricultural seeds US $30 billion All derived from genetic resources
Personal care, & Botanical US $ 12 Billion some derived from genetic resources & also natural component of the market
Food & Beverage US $ 31 Billion
Some derived from genetic resources & also natural component of the market
Markets fail to capture most of the ecosystems service values provided. In order to capture and integrate/enlighten to a sustainable economy and for it to work there will need to be more information provided. If we understood the matrix of the issues and a way to regulate and create policies to manage the capture of nutrients and loss we can begin to see a gain.
For example, a reduction in meat production could protect forests and help reduce the clearance of forests for cattle ranches, which would have a benefit for climate change, proper investments in renewable energy, cradle to cradle type of designs, where products are designed to be produced and recycled or disposed of more sustainably could reduce the costs for producers and consumers and reduce the stress on the ecosystem, land that is used to produce unhealthy or marginally nutritious items such as tobacco, sugar, possibly tea and coffee could be used for more healthier alternatives, such as hydroponics.
Why should we care?
What difference does it make if some species are extinguished, if even half of all the species on earth disappear? Massive amounts of scientific resources would be lost. Undiscovered biological wealth will be destroyed. Uncaptured undeveloped medicines, crops, pharmaceuticals, timber fibers, pulp, soil-restoring vegetation, petroleum substitutes, and other products and amenities will never come be revealed. The small bugs and weeds, would be forgotten and that poor moth from Latin America that saved Australia’s pastureland from overgrowth by cactus, the rosy periwinkle that provides a cure for Hodgkin’s disease and childhood lymphocytic leukemia would be lost, the bark of the Pacific yew offers hope for victims of ovarian and breast cancer, and that a chemical from the saliva of leeches that dissolves blood clots during surgery, and so on down list already long and eminent despite the limited research to addressed it.
In order to understand the importance of biodiversity one must understand the services it provides which are to enrich the soil and create the very air we breathe. Without these luxuries, the destiny on Earth of the human race would be obsolete. The life-sustaining infrastructure is built of green plants with unions of microorganisms and mostly small, obscure animals such as weeds and bugs. Such organisms support the world with efficiency because they are so diverse, allowing them to divide labor and roam over every square meter of the earth’s surface. These tiny organisms run the world with precision as we would wish it to be run, because humanity evolved within living communities and our bodily functions are fine tuned to the distinctive environment already created. Mother Earth, lately called Gaia, is no more than the of amalgamation of the physical environment they are in tune with each passing moment, an environment that will deconstruct and turn deadly if the organisms are distressed too much.
How can we depict aspects of what biodiversity means in reference to field studies, epistemologies, axiologies, methodologies and cultural beliefs?
Experimental research about Biodiversity
There are many field studies that focus on biodiversity around the globe. One of them is at the Cedar Creek field station at the University of Minnesota. One of the projects going on there include studying biodiversity loss, CO2, and Nitrogen.
Why study Biodiversity loss, CO2, and Nitrogen?
Evidence of global change biology, there are also some well documented facts. Some of these are;
- The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is rising. Since the industrial revolution, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has increased from approximately 275 parts per million (ppm) to about 378 ppm today. This has been largely the result of fossil fuel burning. It is expected that CO2 levels will continue to rise, and that by the year 2050 these levels will be approximately 550 ppm. CO2 is the raw material for photosynthesis and is known to affect plant growth and development.
- The amount of nitrogen moving through terrestrial ecosystems has increased in the recent past. While natural “background” levels of nitrogen fixation have remained constant, human additions to the system through fertilizer production and fossil fuel use have increased dramatically. Nitrogen is a key nutrient for plant growth and plays a critical role in plant community structure and composition in many environments.
- Biodiversity levels are falling. While the research and data are not as complete as they are for CO2 and nitrogen, data indicate that the number of species globally, is being reduced. Perhaps more important for ecosystem function, diversity levels on local to regional scales have fallen due to land use change, biotic invasion.
Documentaries about Biodiversity
2. Lord of the Ants documentary about E.O. Wilson’s Life research as an entomologist
The concept of biodiversity can mean different things to different people. It came to my attention that many academic specialists define and understand the term differently according to their own experiences working with species collections, their own research and field studies. From the perspective of a science educator who has witnessed first hand research taking place in many field locations around the world such as the La Salva Biological research station in Central America, and Borro Colorado Island in Panama and from studying the topic, that there needed to be a way to create a greater awareness of the impact of widespread lack of preservation and conservation efforts related biodiversity.
Biodiversity became important to me years ago as an undergraduate student studying, conducting research and writing papers in the many ecology and biology courses that I took. I remember reading about the widespread deforestation taking places in rain forests around the world. I took an interest in botany and agriculture and the many issues related to the sale and production of food . I took many field based courses in geology, biology and ecology, such as physical geology, aquatic ecology and field botany . The land and water research activities that I experienced and research about began my journey into the not so perfect environment tale that eventually lead to a life long adventure to answer the bigger the questions as to why such suppression of natural resources and the environment and its inhabitants takes place. I began to look for solutions to the dilemma and possibly what things would look like if those processes were repaired, reversed and monitored.
Little did I know that I would later become the Indiana Jones version of the biodiversity topic peering into the critical awareness of every concept related to taking care of our big blue planet. My many years of teaching interdisciplinary science topics in the classroom, courses taken as a student, and working as a field study researcher gave me an edge to looking into the problems with more detail and perspective. My field courses continued as a masters student as I began to travel to more locations to study conservation biology topics. I began to get more involved with the biodiversity topic. In a graduate course in science education at Akron I began to develop a proposal for secondary curriculum for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I wrote the proposal before I went on the Bahamas field research trip. A professor at YSU took interest in the topic and allowed me to develop similar topics for the island of San Salvador, Bahamas.
I remember working with the Living Jewels Conservation efforts on the Island of San Salvador, Bahamas. The one of the smaller island in the many chains of islands in the Bahamas. There are no high rise buildings or commercialization efforts on San Salvador. There are only 1000 people who live on the island. We stayed at a Navy base while conducting conservation biology and geology research. My job was to create a curriculum project that would tie into the preservation and conservation efforts of San Salvador. The were 3 schools on the island for primary grades, middle school and high school with a little under 150 students at each location. The school children had little supplies or access to the internet. They mostly had teachers from Cuba who would teach in incremental contracts. The living jewels foundation was developed to try to create a national park or conservation efforts to conserve and protect the species of animals and plants that live on San Slavador. I was able to visit the school and work with the administration to create a curriculum for the island. I can post the curriculum project to this website and you can read more about the Living Jewels foundation at the Gerace Research station library and staff and at the The Living Jewels Educational foundation. To find out about conservation efforts taking place on the island go to the B.R.E.E.F. Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation . The school children on the island had many agriculture project that they were working on and were flown to Nassau to record a song that that they created. Students and teachers involved in conservation and preservation (the songs, t-shirts, field studies with children in grades 4-9 on the island). The Gerace research center has natural history symposium books, videos media. The living jewel
The Living Jewels Song by the children created by Dr. Ron Shaklee
England has her Kings and Queens, a Royal legacy, Their jeweled gold and silver crowns, that few will ever see, The crown jewels of Bahamaland, are shared by everyone, Living jewels of the land, sky and sea, set in a crown of golden sun. Verses My name in Lana, I’m an iguana, with my skin so green, If you steal me away from where I should be, soon there won’t be any more of me, One less jewel in the sunlit crown, of the land, the sky and sea. My name is Rupert, I’m a Nassau Grouper, I’m plump and sweet, Catch me before I have a chance to breed, soon there won’t be any more of me, One less jewel in the sunlit crown, of the land, the sky and sea. My name is Dawn, I’m a conch, such a tasty treat, If I don’t have a lip when you take my meat, soon there won’t be any more of me, One less jewel in the sunlit crown, of the land, the sky and sea. My name is Myrtle, I’m a sea turtle, swimming over the reef, If I can’t lay my eggs on a quiet beach, soon there won’t be any more of me, One less jewel in the sunlit crown, of the land, the sky and sea. My name is Hector, I’m a woodpecker, I have a sharp beak, But if you cut down all of my trees, soon there won’t be any more of me, One less jewel in the sunlit crown, of the land, the sky and sea. My name is Trish, I’m a crawfish, I’m a delicacy, If my legs have berries, let me be, or soon there won’t be any more of me, One less jewel in the sunlit crown, of the land, the sky and sea. Stop! Who are you? My name is Maria, and I’m a hutia. A what? A hutia! I’m a small, brown furry rodent. We used to be found all over the islands. What happened? Man came. He hunted me with his animals. He cleared the land and destroyed my habitat. Now I’m only found on two small islands where no one ever goes. That’s sad. Yes it is.
Upon returning home from the Bahamas I began to work with the idea of conservation efforts closer to home. I started to write what latter turned into the Cuyahoga Valley National Park field study curriculum. I wrote the curriculum for my Biology 2 class that I was teaching at the time. I spend many hours planning the field courses. The curriculum and guidelines are posted in the field study and biodiversity section of this website. I have a lot of the projects that students created at the park that I could post so that you can also complete similar activities possibly with a National Park close to where you live. I took even more interest in the topic and became an advocate for conservation efforts. The students took interest in their assignments related to the park and enjoyed the field trip experience. I traveled to the CVNP with professor from Youngstown State University and a friend who has her masters in historical preservation who was also interested in the topic. Together we were able to work out an itinerary and broke the field trip into 3 or 4 activities. We chose the Beaver Marsh area as it is more diverse than any other areas in the CVNP.
I presented the CVNP field study curriculum at National Association of Biology Teachers 2008 in New Orleans. There I met Dr. Jacqueline McLaughlin at a luncheon who also taught about conservation biology and biodiversity field studies. I next traveled to the NABT in 2009 in Denver, Colorado. I joined Penn State Chance in 2010 and traveled to Central America to part take in continued education, research and conservation biodiversity efforts. More of the story in future post…stay tuned….
The Penn State Chance 2010 program was quite the eye opener. Talk about planes, trains and automobiles. This field trip was not for the amateur. The itinerary was broken down into 3 smaller trips with 5 travel days at each stop. The bus ride to the first stop was amazing. The Caribbean side of Central America was filled with lush vegetation. There were farmers on horses tending to the crops. The sugar cane crops were very tall and everywhere you looked was green mountains. We had to bring water with us as we were in a remote area. Our 1st stop was Gandoca where we spent time in remote villages and worked with the Widecast – Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Preserve research group to help protect the leather back sea turtles. Our research group of scientists, educators and biologists had many assignment and spent many waking hours patrolling the black sand beaches of Gandoca protecting the baby sea turtles, waiting for them to hatch and send them back to sea. One one four hour patrol we had to dress in black pants and long sleeve shirts, use flashlights with a red filter. We also practiced what it is like for a full grown sea turtle dig a nest for their eggs. I remember how hot the beach sand was that day. I also remember talking to Kathy Wainwright who was a pre-education major and how kind and interesting the conversations with the students and professors were that day. Eight hours later I got picked for a four hour patrol we had to dress in black pants and long sleeve shirts, use flashlights with a red filter as to not distract the turtles. It was so hot that night and we barely sat we just kept patrolling. It was so hot even ant night and we could see a storm brewing. I was actually thankful when it started to rain. We walked back to camp and washed the sand off before we went to bed . My next patrol was with Radhika Vachhhani who was a medical student sat on duty with me in the wee morning hours to patrol the turtle nests. Although we didn’t see turtles hatching that morning we did share the shooting stars, amazing conversation and saw pods of dolphins jumping across the ocean skyline. The girls stayed in one camp and the guys in another. Our camp cook was a wonderful Spanish woman named Maria and her niece. Although they didn’t have as for food stock they gave their heart in the foods they cooked for us the 5 days we were there. Realizing that we would not be eating much dairy products or foods we were used to from home we made due with what was provided for us to eat. We were all so appreciative just to have a meal. Usually rice and beans and fruit and some pasta with tuna. I remember getting up and trying to put my makeup on only to have our tour guide in a coy way ask me where I thought I was going. I laughed and just looked up at him and laughed. In between our assignments we could go sight seeing or chill with a good book, or our journals in nearby hammocks. We did find a pile of coconuts and did actually get one open. We sat and shared the coconut chunks and our beautiful camp cooks made us brown sugar and coconut cookies for desert that night. They were delicious! I remember how satisfying the foods were and filling, could be the protein from the rice and beans. We all brought gifts from home for the camp cooks. It was so much fun to watch Maria and her niece open the presents. I bought peanut butter, tuna and a fly swatter with a flower and some dish towels. They loved them.
Our next stop was the Borro Colorado Island (meaning the mouth of the bull). We took a boat there which was really interesting. Many families live on the edge of the water ways. The port was small and most areas that lead to the boat were rough in nature. There was graffiti on the train cars and some fencing near by. We loaded our luggage into a speed boat. The water was mucky and not clear near the port. The boat driver once we were successfully in the boat literally pushed the full throttle to get us out of the area as fast as possible. Once we got into open water areas a La Selva Biological Station in the Braulino Carrillo National Park.