why do we need to study biodiversity

Why do we need biodiversity? Each and every species has a particular function in an ecosystem. Some species can capture energy in various forms: for example they can produce organic material, contribute to the nutritive system of the ecosystem, control soil erosion, act as a protection from pollution of the atmosphere and regulate the climate. Ecosystems contribute to improving the production of resources, as for example, soil fertility, pollination of plants and decomposition of vegetables and animals. They also carry out real services such as: purifying the air and water, moderating the climate and controlling the rain or drought, and other environmental disasters. Obviously all these important functions are fundamental for human survival. The more varied the ecosystem is, i. e. the greater the biodiversity, the greater its resistance to environmental stress will be. The loss of even only one species often can provoke a decrease in the capacity of the system to remain preserved in case of degradation. Biodiversity is like a large tank, from which humans can draw food, pharmaceutical products and even cosmetics. This helps to better understand the importance of maintaining biodiversity, especially in the case of agrobiodiversity, i. e. diversity in agricultural productions.


This regards the innumerable quantity of plants that help to feed and heal human beings. It can be found in the immense variety of cultures and animal species with specific nutritional characteristics, in animal breeds that have adapted to hostile environments, in insects that guarantee pollination and microorganisms that regenerate the soil used in agriculture. Biodiversity is an Бassurance Б for life on our Planet, and therefore must be protected at all costs, because it is a universal heritage that can offer immediate advantages to human beings. The economic importance of biodiversity for humans can be summarized as follows:
Biodiversity offers food: harvests, silviculture, livestock and fish Biodiversity is fundamentally important in medicine. A very large number of species of plants is used for medicinal purposes since very ancient times. An example is quinine, extracted from the cinchona tree (Cinchona calisaya and C. officinalis) that is used to fight malaria. Furthermore some scholars believe that 70% of anticancer drugs are derived from tropical forest plants. It seems that out of 250,000 species of known plants, only 5,000 have been studied for their possible medical applications.


Biodiversity has a remarkable role also in the textile fibres manufacturing industry, wood for building and for the production of energy. Many industrial products are obtained thanks to biodiversity: lubricants, perfumes, paper, waxes and rubber, are all obtained from plants; and there are also products of animal origin such as wool, silk, leather, hides, etc. Biodiversity is a source of richness also in the sector of tourism and recreational activities: wild natural environments and the presence of animals in fact attract thousands of tourists from all over the world every year. hy do we care about nature, and can we actually quantify what the benefits are? This is what the UN's The Economics of Ecosystems and (Teeb) project is all about, and the answer is remarkable. The natural world в biodiversity в provides us with food, materials and energy. We eat animals and plants; insects pollinate many of the foods we consume; microbes in the soil provide the nutrients the plants to grow; vegetation and soil biodiversity reduce flooding and release clean drinking water; vegetation soaks up a substantial proportion of the climate warming carbon dioxide gasses that we emit.


The list goes on and on. Urban and rural citizens alike rely on these natural products and benefits. The real cost of damaging nature, it turns out, is at least 10 times greater than the cost of maintaining the ecosystem as it is so that we can reap the associated benefits. To take an example close to the University of York where I work, the costs of flood defence construction and flood-related insurance claims in the Vale of York hugely outweigh the agricultural benefits of drainage ditches and overgrazing in the River Ouse catchment. Rather than treating nature as a pleasant luxury, Teeb argues that we should integrate the real costs and benefits within our decision-making. It should not be the preserve solely of environment and conservation ministries, but it should be at the core of the activities of finance departments. Teeb argues that we should get rid of subsidies that are environmentally damaging and reward beneficial activities that maintain natural ecosystems. This might be by including the costs of damage within the purchase price of products to encourage us to buy the least damaging items, and potentially by paying land owners and countries directly to maintain natural ecosystems.


Farmers in the Ouse catchment have recently received payments for blocking their drainage ditches; and the perverse subsidies that rewarded farmers by the animal в resulting in over-grazing, trampling and erosion в have been removed. It can be done. Achieving this at a global scale is far more difficult. If you keep microscopic predators and prey in a small bottle, the predator usually becomes too common, eats most or all of the prey, and then dies out itself. In Pilanesberg Game Reserve, a fenced 572 km2 game reserve in South Africa, predator numbers had to be reduced to stop antelope numbers from collapsing. A larger bottle. The planet is our bottle: 7 billion people and counting, 2 billion more by the middle of this century, with the level of consumption per person increasing just as fast. Greening the world's economies and social systems is essential is we are to avoid a similar collapse. Let us hope that the Teeb conclusions and reports take us a step in that direction. Chris Thomas is professor of Biology, Department of Biology, University of York.

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