International Day for Biological Diversity 2019
May 22, 2019
[Photo credits (clockwise from left): Field work, Dr. Ryan Prosser; squash bee, Paul Kozak; lichens, Kristen Bill; wavyrayed lampmussel, Dr. Ryan Prosser; lichens, Jocelyn Kelly; wildflowers, Aleksandra Dolezal; insects, Dr. Alex Smith lab; savannah sparrow chick, Dr. Amy Newman; American chestnut burr, Stephen Van Drunen; mountains, Dr, Andrew MacDougall; pumpkinseed, Kathryn Peiman; forest, Dr. Jenny McCune.]
By Casey Nicholls, Volunteer Writer
Today, May 22, is recognized as International Day of Biological Diversity. How often do we take time to reflect on the essential ecological services that our planet’s biodiversity provides for us and all other species? This day provides us with an opportunity to acknowledge and honour the vast array of species and ecosystems found on our planet.
The biodiversity within and across both species and ecosystems lends to their overall resilience in times of disturbance and change. For instance, strong genetic diversity within a species’ population makes that population more capable of surviving through ecological shifts. Regarding ecosystems, the maintenance of biodiversity and interactions between species (biostructure1) are crucial to the flourishing of any given ecosystem and the others to which it connects.
We owe much of our knowledge about biodiversity and biostructure to scientists, conservationists, and indigenous persons. However, despite immense efforts, we are only just beginning to understand the biodiverse webs of ecosystems, the species interactions within these webs, and how these interactions affect overall ecological resilience.
While this day can act as a reminder to celebrate our planet’s biodiversity, it also opens up space for discussion about the accelerating loss of biodiversity that is being documented across all ecosystems. There is strong scientific consensus that the earth is experiencing its 6th mass extinction. Multiple meta-data studies have confirmed that the biodiversity of all terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems is in significant and accelerating decline.
The reality of biodiversity loss goes beyond the issue of species extinction. A study that used a sample of 27,600 terrestrial vertebrate species found that 1/3 of the species whose populations are currently in decline are not considered endangered2. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) 2018 Living Planet Report documented an average decline of 60% across 16,704 mammal, bird, fish, amphibian, and reptile populations since 19703.
Earlier this month, the summary of an upcoming study by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was released. The findings indicate that rates of biodiversity loss are worse than previously indicated and will continue to worsen without human society being systemically and fundamentally reorganized. According to the study, approximately 1 million animal and plant species face extinction, and many of them will disappear within the coming decades4.
Human activities are cited as the root causes of biodiversity loss by all of the above-mentioned studies. Land-use change, habitat loss, overconsumption of resources, climate change, pollution, and invasive species are continuously being identified as the drivers of biodiversity loss and ecological degradation.
Despite this discouraging reality, we can use this information as a catalyst to take charge and transform our broken relationship with the planet in ways that support biodiversity and life, instead of destroying it. Everyone has a crucial part to play in this paradigm shift and societal restructuring, be it scientists, politicians, economists or laypeople.
Members of the Biodiversity Resilience Network take an active role through researching the effects of various anthropogenic activities (agriculture, chemical application, water diversion) on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning with the goal of contributing to the creation of a better tomorrow for both humans and the planet.
1. McCann K (2007) Protecting Biostructure. Nature. 446:29. DOI: 10.1038/446029a
2. Ceballos G, Ehrlich PR, Dirzo R. (2017) Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 114(30):E6089-E6096. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1704949114