Biodiversity, or biological diversity, is a key aspect of Sustainable Development Goals 14 (life below water) and 15 (life on land), though it is important in almost all of the UN’s goals and targets. Protecting biodiversity is in our best interest as a species.
What is biodiversity?
Biodiversity is the variety of species in a habitat. In biology, the term “biological diversity” refers to the number of populations of different organisms and species; ecologists, on the other hand, prefer to speak of the diversity of interactions between species and their environment. The truth is, these definitions complement each other.
Why biodiversity is important
From a purely anthropological, ‘selfish’ point of view, human beings depend on the biodiversity of ecosystems on many fronts:
- Environment. The biosphere helps make the planet habitable by regulating the surface temperature and cleaning the atmosphere.
- Resources. We get all kinds of essential raw materials.
- Knowledge. Biological diversity is the source of many of our pharmaceuticals, and other species help us understand ourselves.
- Economics. Much of human activity rests on natural or naturalized environments, including cities.
- Protection. Preserving ecosystems minimizes the risk of zoonosis and pandemics.
- Health. It has been shown how environments with less biodiversity negatively affect health.
The planet will still be ‘here’ even if biodiversity reaches zero, but we won’t.
Causes behind loss of biodiversity
Recent studies have shown that, although the current loss of biodiversity is critical, almost all current ecological chains have already been modified by humans over the last 12,000 years. In other words, what’s being protected is biodiversity that’s already highly decimated and vulnerable. Past and current reasons include:
- Overusing natural resources. Every year, the date on which Earth Overshoot Day – the symbolic day when we consume the resources renewed in one calendar year – comes earlier.
- Loss of species’ habitats. The destruction of habitats to meet the growing demand for food, energy, and sprawling urban space is accelerating every single decade.
- Environmental pollution. Biodiversity is highly vulnerable to environmental changes, ranging from chemical pollution to acoustics, including climate change and dumping.
- Introduction of invasive species. The ecology in some regions is so vulnerable that the introduction of invasive species plays a fundamental role in the destruction of their biodiversity.
Every time an ecosystem loses biodiversity, it becomes more vulnerable. In rich, complex food chains, the loss of a single species doesn’t usually mean serious changes because another will occupy its niche. But simple ecosystems can lead to ‘ cascading extinctions’ – a domino effect where biodiversity is so fragile that species are unable to survive.