Biodiversity is a basic feature of nature, which determines the diversity of ecosystems, living species and their genes. With increased diversity in a natural environment comes more stability, better functioning and, as a consequence, resistance to changes.
The exact number of species on Earth is unknown. Scientists estimate that there are currently about 8.7 (±1.3) million. Unfortunately, many of them become extinct before being discovered and each extinction is an irreversible loss!
The loss of biodiversity is the greatest threat to the proper functioning of life on Earth.
Each species has its place and a specific function in the ecosystem. Its death brings about more instability in the ecosystem. Living organisms influence each other. They are interconnected, for example by food dependencies, which allow matter to circulate and energy to flow in nature. Green plants perform photosynthesis, in which water and carbon dioxide form simple organic compounds under the influence of light. This is why we call them producers. There are also consumers: herbivores – first level consumers, carnivores – second and third level consumers, as well as organisms that break down organic matter – destruents. Organisms can be united in competing for light, food, living space, water, mineral salts or a partner. Two species can closely coexist without harming each other, which may benefit both or only one of them, or one of them can be a parasite – in this case one benefits and the other comes to harm. All organisms have adapted to the conditions in which they live through evolution. The dependencies between them form a complex network. Because of this, we can never be sure whether “removing” one piece from this puzzle won’t disturb the system, which has been forming over a very long time “by trial and error”.
Reasons for the reduction of biodiversity. We’re witnessing a dramatic fall in biodiversity. The loss of further species reduces our own chances of survival.
The key factors for this decline include:
1) the disappearance of habitats and ecological corridors
2) the influx of invasive alien species
3) climate change
4) environmental pollution
5) overexploitation of living resources
Currently, between 5,000 and approx. 50,000 species of plants and animals disappear each year. This is a number 100 to 1000-fold greater than the natural extinction process without the influence of human civilisation. It has to be noted that extinction can happen to both large and spectacular species, such as the lynx, tiger, giraffe, which are in danger, or the black rhinoceros, which is already extinct, but also to small, inconspicuous ones, which perhaps we haven’t yet discovered and named. According to the “Living Planet Report 2016” published by the WWF, the population of vertebrates decreased by 58% between 1970 and 2012! Analyses of publications and research from the last 40 years concerning insects tell us the situation is dramatic. According to forecasts, if humans don’t refrain from environmental degradation, up to 40% of all insect species may become extinct over the next few decades. By changing the climate and transforming the natural environment, humanity changes the space other organisms need to live and reproduce, and often they’re unable to survive in new conditions.
Human activities, such as construction of roads and railways, river regulation, excessive deforestation, industrial farming and intensively fertilised large-area monocultures, have caused the once huge habitats to be divided and separated by barriers. As a result, the gene pool of the population is diminished, which can lead to its extinction.
In order to prevent biodiversity loss, active conservation measures are being taken to stop adverse changes. Some of them consist in restoring habitats to a state that enables ecosystems to function properly, supporting natural processes that have been disturbed, or rebuilding populations. Others provide connections between divided fragments of habitats by creating new or reconnecting broken ecological corridors. Maintaining such communication always needs careful consideration on three levels: local (population of the species), regional (connections between populations) and continental (the entire area where a species occurs).
Alien invasive species that manage to escape, plants from cultivation or animals kept on farms, or species that have been accidentally or intentionally introduced into the environment, are a serious threat to biodiversity. They exhibit rapid growth and a high reproduction rate. These qualities give them an edge in the fight for the habitat’s resources and, as a result, they take over niches native species occupy, eventually eliminating them and transforming the natural habitats.
A lack of awareness of the threats invasive species pose, results in bored owners of exotic animals or well-meaning nature enthusiasts releasing invasive species into the environment, such as the red-eared turtle or signal crayfish. Not only animals are a problem. Everyone should know the most dangerous alien plant species and not introduce them to our gardens. A publication of the Zaborski Landscape Park entitled: “Replace goldenrod with mallow by your fence” (co-financed by the Voivodeship Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management in Gdańsk), which can be found on the website of the Pomeranian Landscape Park Complex, lists species that are a threat to native nature and which plants they can be replaced with to benefit the natural environment.
The decline in biodiversity is also a result of organisms being over-exploited, e.g. through overfishing or hunting.
Water, soil and air pollution also affect them. The response to changes in the environment varies depending on the species. Starting with a change in growth or reproduction rate and ending with the extinction of those most sensitive. In this case measures to preserve biodiversity can also be taken.
What can YOU do to protect biodiversity:
● Limit consumption. Buy only the products you are able to use
- Choose local products and those whose production does not negatively impact biodiversity (e.g. avoid palm oil)
- Don’t bring souvenirs made of plants and animals at risk of extinction from holidays (you can find a list of 34 thousand species on the Washington Convention website – CITES)
- Swap your evenly trimmed lawn for a colourful meadow
- Grow native plant species, in particular those good for insects, birds, small mammals
- Take care of old trees and avenues, plant new ones
- If you feed birds, do it responsibly. Don’t give them bread!
- Don’t introduce alien species into the environment
- When choosing a place for your holiday or relaxation, consider whether your presence won’t harm the surroundings
- Learn about invasive species that are a threat to nature and don’t cultivate them
- Give up plastic and take advantage of reusable products
- Sort waste
- Save water and electricity
- Collect rainwater, which you can use, for example, to water your garden
- Share these tips with others 🙂