The Beauty and Value of Biodiversity

Biological Diversity in the forms of species and terrestrial diversity is more important than many realize. As mentioned previously, the ecological and economic services that the members of the planet, be they flora or fauna, provide is extremely prevalent in thinking about their preservation (The Stewardship View). In addition, there is the supplementary view that states that this should not be the only reason for their preservation, but that there are also ethical reasons they should preserved, that they have a right to exist no matter how useful they are to us (Environmental Wisdom Viewpoint). These conflicting views I believe should be used in conjunction as motivation to preserving Earth’s biodiversity.

The Amazon Rain Forest is one of the most biologically diverse environments in the world.

The Amazon Rain Forest is one of the most biologically diverse environments in the world.

Despite what many believe, the aim of preservation groups such as the Wildlife Conservation Society is not simply to preserve the aesthetic beauty of environments (although it is true that many more visible anthropomorphic species receive more attention within these causes) but also to stabilize environments and economies.

With a commitment to protect 25 percent of the world’s biodiversity, we address four of the biggest issues facing wildlife and wild places: climate change; natural resource exploitation; the connection between wildlife health and human health; and the sustainable development of human livelihoods.

-Wildlife Conservation Society

There are many ways that humans threaten species and terrestrial habitats with extinction but there are also solutions to these problems. I will detail both here but I will maintain, as before, that I do fall more under the camp of a stewardship viewpoint, and the solutions I list here will reflect that perspective.

New York based Wildlife Conservation Society rediscovered a rare species of turtle in Cambodia

New York based Wildlife Conservation Society rediscovered a rare species of turtle in Cambodia

The idea of biological extinction, or when a species can no longer be found anywhere on Earth, represents first and foremost the irreversible loss of natural capital and also the unbalancing of the ecosystem if the species is a keystone species or even if it isn’t. Throughout biological history there has always been a background extinction rate that has eliminated certain species that were simply out-competed by natural selection.

The massive Quaternary extinction event eliminated many species of Megafauna like mammoths

The massive Quaternary extinction event eliminated many species of Megafauna like mammoths

Mass extinctions, or extinctions of many species in a relatively short period of time, have happened throughout geologic time, when 50-95% of the world’s species have become extinct. Climate changes and large-scale catastrophes such as volcanoes. However, the current annual rate of species extinction is up 1,000 times the historical background rate due to factors such as habitat loss, climate change and other anthropogenic sources.

Although species diversity from past mass extinctions have recovered since the extinctions happened, it would take the biodiversity of the earth 5 to 10 million years for natural processes to replace the projected number of species that will become extinct during this century, as human influences have made it more difficult to allow them to regain ground.

Many question why in fact we should preserve species if we do not interact with species like orangutans or passenger pigeons. Biologists maintain four reasons why we should preserve species. One, they provide natural resources and services, two is that most species contribute to ecosystem services such as plants and animals that may provide new material sources for medicinal drugs. Third is, due to the idea that species diversity will not be renewed for 5-10 million years, future generations will not be able to experience the unique biodiversity of the Earth. Finally, as per the environmental wisdom viewpoint, many people believe that there are ethical reasons to preserve living organisms on Earth.

Honey bees provide a priceless service of pollinating most of the crops that we use to sustain our food supply

Honey bees provide a priceless service of pollinating most of the crops that we use to sustain our food supply

The most prominent causes of species extinction are habitat destruction, degradation, and fragmentation, invasive species, population growth and increasing consumption, pollution, climate change and over exploitation.

One prime example of an invasive species that interfered with native species that previously lived there is the kudzu vine. The kudzu vine grew rampant in the southeastern United States when it was imported from Japan and has since caused intense erosion and knocked out other species due to its ability to adapt to the new environment better than the native species.

The kudzu, though a commonly seen plant in the southern United States, is an invasive species

The kudzu, though a commonly seen plant in the southern United States, is an invasive species

In general, to deal with the reduction of biodiversity, policies such as prevention of invasive species from spreading to other continents than attempting to eliminate them once they’re there. For example the kudzu vine is suggested to be harvested and used for nutritional supplements in order to thin its prominence in the United States.

However, for species that haven’t already spread, stricter customs policies are in order. To prevent a further loss of biodiversity, human population growth needs to be managed (by the policies mentioned previously) as well as pollution controlled and climate change mitigated. Although climate change is somewhat inevitable some policies can perhaps be put into practice in order to mitigate it. Poaching must also be put to a stop because the hunting and selling of parts of endangered species is extremely detrimental to the sensitive species that are usually poached. Owning an exotic pet such as a tropical fish or snake can put strain on the environments that they are conventionally taken out of.

Beautiful Tiger skins such as these are extremely valuable, but also taken at the extreme expense of an endangered species and its habitat

Beautiful Tiger skins such as these are extremely valuable, but also taken at the extreme expense of an endangered species and its habitat

There have also been policies passed in order to ensure that endangered species are unharmed such as CITES or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in 1975 which bans the hunting, capturing, and selling of endangered or threatened species listing 900 species that cannot be traded commercially. The power of the treaty is limited to a per country basis so the effects of the treaty are limited, but this treaty does show initiative in the global community for an effort to protect species worldwide.

The United States Endangered Species Act is more powerful of a policy within the United States-punishing people who harm endangered species on private lands with a $100,000 fine or 1 year in prison to ensure protection of the habitats of endangered species.

The endangered Fender's blue butterfly and its host plant, the threatened Kincaid's lupine are two species protected under the act

The endangered Fender’s blue butterfly and its host plant, the threatened Kincaid’s lupine are two species protected under the act

Gene or seed banks are other unconventional methods that can be used to conserve species basically by providing genetic information for at-danger plant and animal species.

The Svalbard seed bank in Norway stores seeds indefinitely for future necessity

The Svalbard seed bank in Norway stores seeds indefinitely for future necessity

As discussed earlier, Theodore Roosevelt established wildlife refuges in order to conserve the activity of hunting and protecting wildlife habitats but in general the idea that there are wildlife reserves pays off even to our time. One-fifth of endangered species make their homes in the refuge systems which helps them immensely. 

Overpopulation, as addressed earlier, needs to be curbed in order to prevent land being taken away from the other species of the globe, but there are two areas that need to be kept under surveillance of their problems. Although humanity severely impacts all parts of the globe, the activities of agriculture most intensively erode delicate ecosystems across the world. Specifically, forestland and grasslands are  delicate ecosystems that need to be protected. Forests such as tropical rain forests are typically used for farming, which destroys the extreme fragility of the environment. Roads that are built to reach the farms, any settlers in the area, and logging of the areas by selective cutting negatively impact the forest. Valuable resources that could potentially be used for medicinal drugs can be lost in the destruction of these forests.

An oil palm nursery in Cambodia has been created on previously protected rain forest land.

An oil palm nursery in Cambodia has been created on previously protected rain forest land.

Grasslands are also delicate ecosystems that cattle graze on. Despite belief that grasslands are less productive than others, the soil in grasslands is very fertile. However, once it is grazed, trampled and eroded the soil is destroyed and the species that live there are forced to vacate the region.

The Great Plains Erosion in 1996 led to lack of visibility as the grasslands were reduced to dusty conditions

The Great Plains Erosion in 1996 led to lack of visibility as the grasslands were reduced to dusty conditions

Solutions to the problems that humans bring to the grasslands and forests can be implemented to help preserve the precious biodiversity of the ecosystems. Instead of the forests being razed for farming, the farmers could be given incentives to trade off parts of the land to not use them for farming in order to preserve them. There is hope for the lungs of the world, as many citizens of the regions of rain forest have taken initiative to reforest their homes.

Citizens of Morro da Formiga lead the reforestation project to replant and preserve the existing rainforest on the edge of their settlement.

Citizens of Morro da Formiga lead the reforestation project to replant and preserve the existing rain forest on the edge of their settlement.

Grazing’s impact can also be reduced by advising ranchers to follow the lead of James Ranch and rotate the land used for grazing. Wind barriers can also reduce erosion as well as save much soil.

On James Ranch, cattle are rotated, which allows for the grasslands to recover

On James Ranch, cattle are rotated, which allows for the grasslands to recover

The beauty of the natural world is based in the biodiversity of all flora and fauna on Earth. From lush tropical rain forests to oceans of grassy plains, there is a great abundance of natural capital and beauty on Earth. However, whatever your motivation, it is vital that we preserve natural biodiversity. Most methods encourage the prevention of species loss, but for those species that are too late we have gene and seed banks that are kept climate controlled for the storage of vital material. I think that our main focus should be tackling aforementioned issues such as overpopulation and consumption, but not having to resort to the gene banks to bring extinct species back is ideal.

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