Why biodiversity matters The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) provides leadership in environmental management, utilisation, conservation and protection of ecological infrastructure. Credit: Unsplash As humanity continues to consume the earth’s resources at ever-increasing and unsustainable rates, it is vital to understand why biodiversity matters. Rapidly accelerating trends of environmental degradation and climate change threaten to undermine existing and future developmental potential and opportunity. From the hot arid deserts of the Sahara, through the lush green rainforests of the Amazon, to the ocean depths and bright corals, our natural world is a marvel of different landscapes, materials, colours and textures, which together make up a rich tapestry of interconnecting and interdependent forces. This is life, this is biodiversity. Biodiversity found on earth today consists of many millions of distinct biological species, the product of four-billion years of evolution. However, the word “biodiversity” is relatively new, and is thought to have first been coined as a contraction of the term “biological diversity” in 1985. Biodiversity is the variety of life on earth. It includes all organisms, species and populations, the genetic variation among these and their complex assemblages of communities and ecosystems. It also refers to the inter-relatedness of genes, species and ecosystems and their interactions with the environment. Three level of biodiversity are commonly discussed – genetic, species and ecosystem diversity. 56 | www.opportunityonline.co.za There are many threats to our natural world, which include: HABITAT LOSS AND DESTRUCTION This is one of the greatest threats to biodiversity. Habitat loss is directly linked to human-induced pressures on land. ALTERATIONS IN ECOSYSTEM COMPOSITION Assemblages of species and their interactions with their ecosystems is critical for not only saving the species, but also for their successful future evolution. In the event of alterations, either within species groups, or within the environment, entire ecosystems can begin to change. Alterations to ecosystems are a critical factor contributing to species and habitat loss. INVASIVE ALIEN SPECIES The introduction of exotic species that replace local and native species is cited as the second-largest cause of biodiversity loss. Alien invasive species replace, and often result in the extinction of native species. The annual economic damage caused by invasive plant and animal species is estimated to be in the region of .4-trillion. OVER-EXPLOITATION Over-hunting, over-fishing or over-collecting of a species can quickly lead to its decline. Changing consumption patterns of humans is often cited as the key reason for this unsustainable exploitation of natural resources. POLLUTION AND CONTAMINATION Biological systems respond slowly to changes in their surrounding environment. Pollution and contamination cause irreversible damage to species. Both climate variability and climate change cause biodiversity loss. Species and populations may be lost permanently if they are not provided with enough time to adapt to changing climatic conditions.
BIODIVERSITY What is happening? Fast isn’t always good. Species are becoming extinct at the fastest rate known in geological history and most of these extinctions are tied to human activity. Some conservation organisations estimate species are heading towards extinction at a rate of about one every 20 minutes. One figure frequently cited is that the rapid loss of species we are seeing today is estimated to be between 1 000 and 10 000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. Experts calculate that between 0.01 and 0.1 percent of all species will continue to become extinct each year, if we carry on with business as usual. That may not sound like very much, but consider that if there are 100-million species on Earth as some estimates suggest, then between 10 000 and 100 000 species are becoming extinct each year. Looking at recent assessments we know that more than one third of species assessed in a major international biodiversity study in 2009 are threatened with extinction. Of the 47 677 species in the international Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species of 2009, 17 291 are deemed to be at serious risk. Under threat are: • 21% of all known mammals • 30% of all known amphibians • 12% of all known birds • 28% of reptiles • 37% of freshwater fishes • 70% of plants • 35% of invertebrates page7.pdf 1 3/7/18 9:29 AM Why does it matter? Biodiversity conservation provides substantial benefits to meet immediate human needs such as clean, consistent waterflows, protection from floods and storms and a stable climate. The loss of biodiversity is dangerous and its consequences are immediate: • Fewer opportunities for livelihoods, for better health, education, and a better life • Fewer fish in the sea means less food for our survival • A lack of clean water • A lack of forest resources such as food, or plants for medicine • In the long term, it also means less income for communities, which are often already among the poorest on earth Promoting an increase in the number, size and connectivity of protected areas, both on land and at sea. Increasing focus on the implementation of multilateral environmental agreements related to biodiversity such as the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and the World Heritage Convention. Increasing “Communications, Education and Public Awareness” (CEPA) programmes related to biodiversity with an aim to relate biodiversity to people and their livelihoods. Identifying and creating opportunities for rural enterprises based on biodiversity such as eco-tourism, bio-prospecting to benefit local communities, the environment, species and their habitats. Encouraging development that is sustainable and based on biodiversity by drawing attention to regions that might otherwise be developed in an unsustainable way. Providing important economic and social benefits to local communities and incentives for habitat protection. Identification of options for sharing the benefits of conservation and sustainable use with local communities and stakeholders. There is a recipe we can follow: 1. Relate biodiversity to everyone’s daily needs so that the ownership for saving biodiversity is spread and everyone feels responsible for stopping loss. 2. Ensuring science, policy and politics play an equal role in decision-making. 3. Economics make a great case to argue for conservation action. But such arguments should be translated into national and local actions to realise the potential of biodiversity. 4. Revalue our choice and lifestyles to provide space for the species that inhabit this earth. Have no doubt. This is relevant to us all. Cultural diversity and biodiversity are intimately related to each other. If we lose one, we risk losing the other. The diversity of societies, cultures and languages that has developed throughout human history is intimately related to biodiversity and its use. What are the solutions? There are a number of initiatives aimed at enhancing sustainable development and promoting beneficial conservation of biodiversity in countries around the world. These include: The “Green Economy Initiative” has been defined as one which will accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy able to meet multiple challenges, and deliver multiple opportunities for the 21st century. Call centre: 086 111 2468 | Website: www.dffe.gov.za The DFFE is currently running the Ten Million Trees Programme. This programme aims to attain environmental sustainability and protection and to realise socioeconomic benefits for South Africans and will run for five years. Credit: Sappi
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