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Why Is Biodiversity Important?

14 min read
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Biodiversity. It’s a word that gets thrown around so freely by adverts, businesses and newspapers that for some it can lose its meaning, but the concerning reality is that our planet is facing unprecedented challenges that, if not properly managed, could have catastrophic impacts in the future.

As human activity continues to reshape our world, the need to preserve and protect biodiversity has never been more critical. While the UK has taken steps, like the introduction of the new Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) initiative, there is still much more we can be doing.

So why is biodiversity so important? Why is it on the decline in the UK and, most importantly, what can we do to support it? Let’s find out.

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What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity refers to the variety of life forms on Earth, from the tiniest microorganisms to vast ecosystems, each element playing a vital role in maintaining a diverse and healthy planet.

Why is biodiversity important?

Biodiversity is crucial for our survival and the planet’s health. The complex ecosystems of our planet are so delicately balanced that even small losses in species can have devastating effects on the air we breathe and the food we eat.

Healthy ecosystems provide clean air, fresh water, fertile soil and aid in mitigating climate change, while interconnected species maintain balance in food chains, ensuring our well-being.

Disruptions in this biodiversity can lead to huge consequences, emphasising the need to protect our planet’s ecosystems for current and future generations.

Food security

Biodiversity is vital for our food security. As it stands, a staggering two-thirds of our food relies on just nine crops while there are around 6,000 we could be growing and consuming. This makes our food systems vulnerable to extreme weather and pests, putting us in a dangerous situation as human activity continues to change the climate around us.

Natural resources

The natural world supplies us with essential resources like food, energy, building materials, and medicine. A lack of biodiversity jeopardises these provisions, hindering our ability to make breakthrough discoveries.

With diseases constantly evolving and emerging around the world, biodiversity acts as an “insurance policy” against unforeseen future changes, potentially holding the key to cures for diseases.

Quality of life

A decline in biodiversity also directly impacts our well-being and quality of life. Nature promotes better health, positive interactions and even faster recovery, while the tourism sector relies heavily on natural attractions.

Preserving biodiversity is therefore essential for sustaining diverse lifestyles, cultural customs and the thriving tourism sector, ensuring a richer and more fulfilling human experience.

Climate change and biodiversity

Biodiversity is furthermore a powerful ally in combating climate change. Diverse forests absorb carbon dioxide, while their mass deforestation and habitat destruction release greenhouse gases and amplify global warming.

Additionally, varied ecosystems like mangrove swamps can act as a buffer against extreme weather, including flooding, storms and wildfires, protecting further habitats as well as human populations from danger.

Preventing diseases

Finally, biodiversity loss intensifies the risk of disease transmission. The loss of genetic biodiversity increases vulnerability, as shown in the case of Hantavirus.

Studies showed that recent outbreaks occurred in disturbed habitats with reduced biodiversity. Hantaviruses, transmitted from rodents to humans, thrive in low-diversity host communities, particularly when a species dominates due to human activity, demonstrating the importance of maintaining biodiversity to mitigate disease transmission risks.

Causes of biodiversity loss

Biodiversity loss has been rapidly escalating in recent decades as a result of various human-induced factors, including changes in land use like deforestation and urbanisation, direct exploitation through hunting and overfishing, climate change and pollution.

Deforestation and urbanisation

Deforestation, driven by urbanisation and agriculture, has devastating effects on biodiversity. The clearing of forests for human settlements and farmland results in the destruction of crucial habitats, leading to extinction of species and a decline in biodiversity.

Additionally, the absence of tree roots exacerbates soil erosion, diminishing soil quality and impacting plant growth.

Pollution

Air pollution poses a significant threat to biodiversity, impacting natural ecosystems such as forests and lakes. Sulphur pollutants can lead to acidification in water bodies and harm trees and soils, meanwhile atmospheric nitrogen reduces plant biodiversity and harms aquatic life and heavy metals like mercury accumulate in plants and animals, posing risks to both animal and human health.

Invasive species

Invasive species outcompete native flora and fauna, contributing to the decline of biodiversity. These non-native species, like the Asian Hornet in Europe, disrupt ecosystems, often with devastating consequences for indigenous plants and animals.

Originally from Southeast Asia, the Asian Hornet’s global spread through cargo transport has wreaked havoc on European ecosystems, particularly affecting wild bee populations in France. Recent sightings in various UK regions, including East Sussex, Kent, Devon, and Dorset, have raised concerns about the impending consequences for native bees here as well.

Climate change

Climate change poses a significant threat to biodiversity, impacting marine, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems globally. In the oceans, nearly half of the planet’s coral reefs have been lost in the past 150 years, while on land rising temperatures are forcing species to move to higher elevations or higher latitudes, many moving towards the Earth’s poles, causing far-reaching consequences to these ecosystems.

Overfishing and overhunting

Overfishing and overhunting wreak havoc on biodiversity by disrupting the delicate balance of ecosystems. When a species is overfished, it triggers a ripple effect, impacting the entire food chain.

The extinction of one species can lead to starvation for predators, causing a surge in other populations and creating imbalances. This domino effect then alters ecosystems and compromises biodiversity, highlighting the intricate connections that exist within our environment.

How to increase biodiversity

While this all may sound rather scary, the good news is that hope is not lost. While reversing this trend of biodiversity loss will take considerable collaborative global efforts, it is certainly within our reach.

So, how can we increase biodiversity? Whether it’s restoring degraded habitats, adopting sustainable agricultural and forestry practices, advocating for policy changes and initiatives that prioritise biodiversity conservation or raising public awareness of its importance, we can all be doing our bit to help rebuild our planet.