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Declining Biodiversity

Biological Diversity or Biodiversity is a term used to describe the enormous variety of life on Earth and refers to all living things - microorganisms, plants, animals and humans. Scientists have estimated that there are around 8.7 million species of plants and animals in existence. However, only around 1.2 million species have been identified and described so far, most of which are insects. This means that millions of other organisms remain a complete mystery.

Biodiversity is important to humans for many reasons. The Biodiversity Book by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO; Morton & Hill 2014) describes 5 core (and interacting) values that humans place on biodiversity:

  • Economic - biodiversity provides humans with raw materials for consumption and production. Many livelihoods, such as those of farmers, fishers and timber workers, are dependent on biodiversity.
  • Ecological life support—biodiversity provides functioning ecosystems that supply oxygen, clean air and water, pollination of plants, pest control, wastewater treatment and many other ecosystem services.
  • Recreation - many recreational pursuits rely on our unique biodiversity, such as birdwatching, hiking, camping and fishing. Our tourism industry also depends on biodiversity.
  • Cultural - Indigenous cultures across the world are closely connected to biodiversity through the expression of identity, through spirituality and through aesthetic appreciation. Indigenous people have strong connections and obligations to biodiversity arising from spiritual beliefs about animals and plants.
  • Scientific - biodiversity represents a wealth of systematic ecological data that help us to understand the natural world and its origins.

Any loss or deterioration in the condition of biodiversity can compromise all the values outlined above and affect human wellbeing.

The bad news, however, is that biodiversity is declining. Currently, there are more than 142,500 assessed species on the IUCN Red List (Mar 2021), with more than 40,000 species threatened with extinction, including 63% of cycads, 41% of amphibians, 37% of sharks and rays, 34% of conifers, 33% of reef building corals, 28% of crustaceans, 26% of mammals, 21% of reptiles and 13% of birds.

Up to one million plant and animal species face extinction, many within decades, because of human activities according to the 2019 report by the United Nations-backed panel - Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Based on a thorough analysis of the evidence, the report goes on to rank, in descending order, the five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts so far: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species. These threats have caused an unprecedented rise in the rate of species extinction. Some scientists estimate that half of all the species on Earth will be wiped out within the next century.

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