When we look at the nature around us in Ontario, Canada, we see elements that we are used to, like Poplar Trees and Pine Trees, grass, familiar birds like the American grackle and Mourning Dove, squirrels and even rabbits. These animals are supposed to be present in Ontario because they are a part of our ecosystem and biodiversity. This article will discuss the importance of biodiversity and our ecosystem, explain its many existing threats and what humans can do to maintain it.
Why is Biodiversity Important?
Biodiversity is essential for many reasons. Biodiversity is the variety of nature surrounding us, the animals, microorganisms, plants and insects that co-exist together (Quinney, 2020). It exists everywhere and is essential to humans. For example, we rely on plants to produce oxygen and reduce carbon dioxide and bees to pollinate flowers for fruits and nuts, as humans need biodiversity to survive. It also impacts human nutrition, as stable biodiversity ensures the productivity of soil and existing nutrients in the soil for livestock and crops (World Health Organization, 2015). Global nutrition and food security are also secured by biodiversity as the variety in fruits, vegetables, and animal produce created by species working together leads to resiliency to diseases and natural disasters that monoculture is endangered by (Quinney, 2020).
Variety in forestry is also important. Forests interact differently with species and have varying purposes like providing nutrients and habitats for animals, organisms and microorganisms and can also feed off each other (Elife, 2022). Besides providing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide, forests protect from disasters like flooding and droughts by soaking up excess rainwater, releasing the water during drier seasons, and shielding homes from wildfires and landslides (European Environment Agency, 2015).
Through studying biodiversity and the relationships between organisms, scientists have found medicinal benefits and solutions. For example, various species of fungi discovered to exist on the fur of sloths have been used in chemicals to fight bacteria, cancer, and malaria (Higginbotham et al., 2014). Other than developing drugs, chemicals, and antibiotics from studying nature, zoopharmacognosy, the study of animal usage of nature to self-medicate, can translate to developing medication for human consumption (Shurkin, 2014). Around 25% of the drugs used in modern medicine come from the rainforest, and 70% of cancer drugs are either inspired by or derived from nature (Quinney, 2020).
Threats to Biodiversity
A clear example of biodiversity loss is the decline in the quantity and quality of coral reefs. Since the 1950s, the planet has lost half its coral reefs (Wetzel, 2021). The main reason for this decline is climate change as coral reefs are sensitive to changes in the acidity and temperature of the water (Wetzel, 2021). The increase in carbon dioxide emissions is linked to the detriment of coral reefs as the ocean absorbs a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuels, making it warmer and more acidic (Wetzel, 2021). Healthy coral reefs are essential to aquatic biodiversity as they support, protect, feed, and house thousands of corals, marine animals and fish, but the change in temperature has led to coral bleaching, which kills the coral reefs (Wetzel, 2021). It is estimated that coral reefs support 25% of all marine species (Razek, 2022). Other than being essential to biodiversity, coral reefs are barriers that can reduce waves and protect against erosion, are a source of pharmaceutical ingredients and provide jobs in the fishing and tourism industries (Eller, 2021).
The most significant threat to biodiversity is habitat loss, and its effects on biodiversity are self-explanatory. The remaining habitats often struggle to accommodate animals and supply sufficient food, water and shelter. A lot of habitat loss is the product of manmade intervention, like the destruction of forests for lumber, wood, and nature spaces for new residential developments and roads, the extraction of resources, and the effects of climate change, like the increase in extreme weather events including hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires (Grantham Research Institute, 2022). Habitat loss can also force species to encroach on the existing habitats of other animals, messing with their ecosystems and introducing new competition.
Invasive species are an important threat to biodiversity. In fact, according to the World Conservation Union, invasive species are the most significant threat to biodiversity following habitat loss (Government of Canada, 2017). Invasive species enter the environment in many ways, through clinging onto luggage, via ships, shipping containers and planes, through the intentional release of exotic or non-native pets (like goldfish and Burmese pythons) and other ways (Hill, 2014). In Canada, some common invasive species are the Zebra Mussel, Japanese Knotweeds and Emerald Ash Borers which have environmental and economic impacts (Government of Canada, 2017). Invasive species harm biodiversity as they are new predators and competitors in an existing environment that endanger existing wildlife by challenging their food supply and space (Government of Canada, 2017).
How to help?
Although humans cause a lot of the threats to biodiversity, there can also be positive impacts. Within lawns and backyards, people can plant native flowers and shrubbery and avoid using chemical fertilizers and insecticides that can runoff and impact other natural species (Government of Canada, 2021). Buying from local farms is also beneficial as it can lower the possibility of invasive species entering the environment in transportation (Government of Canada, 2021). Planting flowers and being mindful of bees is also important, as bees are one of the most important insects but are endangered. People should also be careful when buying pets and stray away from exotic animals and non-native pets that could wreak havoc on the existing ecosystems if they were to be let loose.
Elife. (2022, November 29). Forests benefit from tree species variety and genetic diversity. Elifesciences.org. https://elifesciences.org/for-the-press/34589055/forests-benefit-from-tree-species-variety-and-genetic-diversity#:~:text=Diversity%20is%20essential%20to%20healthy,more%20efficient%20use%20of%20resources.
Eller, E. (2021, July 21). Why are coral reefs important for the planet? Healthyhumanlife.com; Healthy Human. https://healthyhumanlife.com/blogs/news/why-are-coral-reefs-important
European Environment Agency. (2015, September 23). Forests can help prevent floods and droughts. European Environment Agency. https://www.eea.europa.eu/highlights/forests-can-help-prevent-floods
Government of Canada. (2017). Why Invasive Alien Species are a Problem. Canada.Ca. https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/biodiversity/why-invasive-alien-species-are-problem.html
Government of Canada. (2021, July 30). Protect Biodiversity From Home – Protect Nature Challenge. Canada.Ca. https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/nature-legacy/activities/protect-biodiversity-from-home.html
Grantham Research Institute. (2022, December 2). What are the extent and causes of biodiversity loss? Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. https://www.lse.ac.uk/granthaminstitute/explainers/what-are-the-extent-and-causes-of-biodiversity-loss/
Higginbotham, S., Wong, W. R., Linington, R. G., Spadafora, C., Iturrado, L., & Arnold, A. E. (2014). Sloth hair as a novel source of fungi with potent anti-parasitic, anti-cancer and anti-bacterial bioactivity. PloS One, 9(1), e84549. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0084549
Hill, J. (2014). Invasive Species: How They Affect the Environment. Environmentalscience.org. https://www.environmentalscience.org/invasive-species
Quinney, M. (2020, May 22). 5 reasons why biodiversity matters to health and the economy. World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/5-reasons-why-biodiversity-matters-human-health-economies-business-wellbeing-coronavirus-covid19-animals-nature-ecosystems/
Razek, L. (2022, December 6). 6 reasons coral reefs deserve protection. Pewtrusts.org; The Pew Charitable Trusts. https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2022/12/06/6-reasons-coral-reefs-deserve-protection
Shurkin, J. (2014). Animals that self-medicate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(49), 17339–17341. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1419966111
Wetzel, C. (2021, September 17). The planet has lost half of its coral reefs since 1950. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-planet-has-lost-half-of-coral-reefs-since-1950-180978701/
World Health Organization. (2015, June 3). Biodiversity and health. Who.int. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/biodiversity-and-health