Late last year the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released a report via its biennial Living Planet Report for the year 2014. The results of the science based study were quite sobering. The Living Planet Index (LPI), which measures trends for more than 10,000 representative populations of fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, declined by 52% between the years of 1970 and 2010. More than half of Earth’s biodiversity lost within the relatively minuscule time frame of 40 years. How did this happen? What are some of the contributing factors responsible for this staggering decline in biodiversity? Furthermore, why is it so crucial that we put forth our best efforts to conserve as much of it as we possibly can?
So, just what exactly is meant by the term biodiversity? The term biodiversity is relatively new and is thought to have first been coined by W.G. Rosen as a contraction for “biological diversity” back in 1985 and it first appeared in a 1988 publication by sociobiologist E.O. Wilson. Simply stated, biodiversity is the variety of all the different forms of life found on Earth.
There are many factors that influence changes in biodiversity. These factors, which can be either direct or indirect, are referred to as drivers. Some of the main drivers responsible for this loss of biodiversity are climate change, overexploitation of species, introduction of invasive species, habitat destruction as a result of urban sprawl as well as for the purposes of agriculture in order to meet the demands of an ever increasing human population, and pollution just to name a few.
So why is maintaining biodiversity through the conservation of species so important?
Well, for starters, ecosystem productivity is higher when more biologically diverse. More biologically diverse ecosystems can also prevent and rebound from natural or man made disasters more readily than those systems that are less diverse. The human population depends on them for resources such as food, shelter and medicine. In some areas of the world the economy is based largely upon ecotourism and if those avenues of income were to suddenly evaporate due to losses of biological diversity those economies in all likelihood would go belly up. History is also replete with examples of how the discovery and subsequent study of organisms have helped advance the fields of science, engineering, and medicine.
Whether you view a species as having an “Intrinsic or inherent value” (something having value in and of itself) or you view it as having an “instrumental or utilitarian value” (the value something has as a means to another’s end), one thing is for certain and that is that the value in having rich biological diversity is immeasurable. After all, who wants to live in a biologically depauperate world anyway? I know I most certainly do not.
Author: Phillip Rose 2015. Photocredit: masonresearch.gmu.edu.