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We've all heard of biodiversity, it's one of the buzz words of the 21st century. But what does it mean and why does it matter? Should we care that global biodiversity losses are turning into a crisis?
Basically, biodiversity means the variety of life that exists on planet Earth. The word is simply a contraction of 'biological diversity'. In other words, this represents the huge range of complex and vital life forms. Without biodiversity, we have no future. And, sadly, because we haven't safeguarded many and various species, the losses respresent a disaster which is probably as big as climate change.
It's never too late to stem the tide, however. Thanks to biodiversity, Earth is still habitable and we can make it even better by acting now. Species evolve continually and each of us has a part to play in the overall survival of, well, everything. We need to protect what's left with a passion similar to how many creatures guard their offspring. No single living creature is worthless and most of them need our protection.
Why do bugs, plants and animals matter?
Because everything is inter-dependent. The water we drink, the air we breathe and the food that we eat all relies on biodiversity.
Take plants, for example. They are clever little beasts for many reasons. The first is the fact that they produce oxygen which is the elixir of life. If all the plants in the world died, the human race would also die. But before we died from lack of oxygen we would succumb to poisoning by carbon dioxide. Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They also take up water and combine the two, converting them into sugar and oxygen during photosynthesis.
Clever, or what? Trees, being the largest plant species, can store carbon for decades, if not centuries. This becomes part of the soil when they are allowed to die naturally. If left alone, the carbon will stay in the ground. It's only during soil management or cultivation that it can be released.
Insects matter too. They are pollinators, predators of lots of different pests, they help to decompose waste material AND they form the basis of many food chains that support creatures higher up the ecosystem. If we lost all our insects, it would be the equivalent of ecological Armageddon.
Living creatures each have a part to play in the ecosystem. If there were no bees or pollinating insects, for example, we would have no fruit or nuts. Animals play an important role in dispersing seed. They can eat fruits and leave the seeds a long way from the parent plant, ready for new plants to grow out of the competition zone. There are countless interactions and these are constantly evolving. Figures show that around 75% of flying insects have disappeared during the last 25 years in some countries.
But all is not yet lost. There are estimated to be up to 100 million species of animals, plants and fungi left. Tropical regions of the world host the most. The Borneo rainforest, for example, is said to contain at least 700 species of tree. This is a similar number as those that exist in the whole of North America.
Bacteria and viruses
Bacteria and viruses are also organisms that contribute to biodiversity. Did you know that in just a single small spoonful of soil there are up to 50,000 different types of bacteria? The human body contains trillions of microorganisms and they are critical to human survival, with many being inter-dependent on others. When something unnatural happens (some say that antibiotics can be a culprit) and kills off part of the interior eco-system, then the body can easily cease to work as it should.
We all need each other, but in the correct doses and proportions. It's too late for woolly mammoths or dodos, but in order to prevent the sixth mass extinction (in geological terms), it's never too late to halt the destruction of biodiversity, despite figures suggesting that the number of animals alive on Earth has dropped by 50% in the last 50 years.
I am just one humble human, what can I do?
The truth of the matter is that each and every one of us can help to support biodiversity. It's not even difficult. Start by planting, planting and planting some more. Fill your borders, pots, window boxes and cover your fences in climbers. Nurture your plants and flowers and safeguard all the creatures that live amongst them.
Treat nature in the same way as you might regard an ancient monument; a church; an artistic masterpiece or a priceless jewel. Handle it with care. Tidyness is an enemy of nature. Leave the spiders' webs on the hedges, allow the beetles to live under your pots and don't be too quick to pour boiling water on an ants' nest. Provide your insects with plenty of safe places. A stack of wood, an insect hotel, a nurtered patch of weeds.
Avoid buying items with excess packaging and ensure to recycle where possible. Don't be part of a throwaway society. Re-use everything that is humany possible. Don't waste food, avoid harsh chemicals and be as 'green' as possible. Teach children to respect nature and help them to be interested in it. They can be the saviours of the planet!
Biodiversity matters because it represents life itself. That's a good enough reason to care.