Learn more about biodiversity
21 February 2023
The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity defines biodiversity as “the variety of species occurring anywhere”. Finally, it was estimated that there are 8.7 million different species on Earth, from bacteria to blue whales, from jellyfish to giant sequoias. Remarkably, in this number, scientists estimate that about 86 percent of living things on land and 91 percent of living things in the water are still unknown.
From an evolutionary point of view, there is no clear separation between one species and another, and biodiversity is never in a fixed state: all types of life change progressively over time. All living things, from an aerospace engineer to the salad lettuce, can find at the beginning of their genealogy a common organism.
Why is biodiversity so important?
Biodiversity is inextricably linked between ecosystems and species, whose existence depends on each other. For humans, biodiversity provides many ecosystem services that, although not valued, are essential for our survival. For example, earthworms help regulate water and provide nutrients to the soil, thus promoting soil fertility and plant growth.
Biodiversity also provides us with special products such as food or medicines. For example, the production of medicinal preparations has a variety of natural products, not to mention the millions of people around the world who continue to use local plants as their main medicine.
Biodiversity at risk?
From time to time the level of biodiversity decreases and many species of living things disappear at the same time. These events are known as mass extinctions, and so far, we have seen five of them over hundreds of millions of years. The most recent extinction occurred about 65 million years ago when an asteroid impact wiped out 75 species on Earth, including non-avian dinosaurs (and yes, that means modern birds, taxonomically speaking true dinosaurs).
It is worrisome that scientists believe we are nearing the end of the 600th century, considering that the extinction rate of living species is 1000 times faster than normal. The latest document created by the Intergovernmental Science and Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) says that biodiversity is declining in all areas of the country and requires urgent action. However, in this case, we are not talking about extinction caused by natural disasters, as was done in the past, but we are talking about human activities. Habitat destruction and fragmentation due to urbanization and overexploitation, as well as the proliferation of exotic species, created by the rapid growth of tourism, commerce, and activity, are some of the most important points. Together they represent a major challenge for biodiversity conservation.
Can biodiversity be improved?
Because habitats are so important for survival, it is important that we learn how to take steps to better protect them and preserve the biodiversity they support. Fortunately, there are things we can all do.
Those who live in cities can do their part by providing food, shelter, and cover for insects and birds, planting flowers that attract animals in gardens, on balconies, and terraces. In many urban parks, local authorities build flower beds to increase diversity.
In the fields, improved agricultural practices can make a difference in biodiversity conservation. This is especially true in intensively farmed areas: where there are fewer habitats left, a balance needs to be struck between land for production and land for conservation. Here, habitat restoration and maintenance initiatives play a key role in improving biodiversity by helping to establish a network of habitats in the environment. In other regions of the world, where production levels are low, improved best practices and supporting technologies can prevent the land from being shifted to crop production.
Natural Park areas designed to protect wildlife also help biodiversity development. Specific efforts can even reverse population declines, as in the case of the southern rhino. These efforts are increasingly relying on digital tools and databases. These tools can help conservationists better monitor the results of their efforts and see where they can be used more, and they can help others, such as farmers, perform their daily tasks more efficiently and successfully.