One of the most important hallmarks of nature’s beauty is the diversity of plants and animals within it. However, with continued human population growth, excessive consumption, and reduced resource efficiency, the world is facing significant biodiversity loss. This refers to the decline or disappearance of the diverse organisms that inhabit our planet, including their genetic variability and biological organization. Although it is typical for the biodiversity of an area to fluctuate with seasonal changes and other natural phenomena, biodiversity loss induced by human disturbances pose severe long-term threats to the environment.
According to an article by Britannica, 50 percent of the world’s habitable land (about 51 million square kilometers or 19.7 million square miles) has been converted to agricultural fields. In addition, “this massive conversion of forests, wetlands, grasslands, and other terrestrial ecosystems has produced a 60 percent decline (on average) in the number of vertebrates worldwide since 1970, with the greatest losses in vertebrate populations occurring in freshwater habitats (83 percent) and in South and Central America (89 percent).”
As a result of these human-driven changes, many organisms are challenged with limited living space and reduced food availability. More importantly, species that are unable to migrate often succumb to extinction. Thus, ecologists emphasize habitat destruction as the top cause of biodiversity loss.
Consequences of Biodiversity Loss
Biodiversity is not just an environmental concern. Based on four recent regional assessment reports on biodiversity by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), biodiversity places equal weight on economic, social, moral, and developmental matters. Therefore, the impact of biodiversity loss is multifaceted and requires attention by a variety of disciplines.
- Biological – Because the loss of individual organisms is accompanied by a decline in genetic diversity, the long-term survival of a species can be significantly threatened. As mates become scarce within a population, mating between closely related individuals, or inbreeding, may increase and pose greater risk to the extinction of a particular species.
- Ecological – Biodiversity plays a crucial role in maintaining ecosystem health. Therefore, declining biodiversity depletes the quality of services that an ecosystem offers. These include providing a dependable food supply, maintaining soil health, and purifying the water that runs through the soil. Because we rely on these ecosystem services for our own well-being, biodiversity loss can have a direct impact on human health.
- Economic and social – Based on an article by the Green Alliance Blog, “biodiversity has significant market economic value” as it provides food, energy, medicines, and building materials. In addition, it has “a non-market economic value through the regulation of climate, air quality, floods, and pollination services.” Moreover, individuals appreciate nature for its positive contributions to cultural, spiritual, psychological, and physical well-being. However, its aesthetic importance is often undervalued in environmental policy.
Despite international efforts to prevent biodiversity loss, such as legislation that illegalizes poaching, biodiversity is declining at unprecedented rates in geological history. Continuous population growth and economic prosperity are resulting in a heightened demand for natural resources, which contribute to the ongoing challenges of habitat fragmentation, overexploitation of numerous ecosystems, and climate change.
As habitat destruction is considered the primary reason for biodiversity loss, prioritizing the development of habitat corridors can enormously benefit a variety of living organisms, particularly endangered species. Habitat corridors can be in the form of bridges, tunnels, or simply land allocated specifically for animals where they can travel without human interference. This is very beneficial for isolated populations since the movement of organisms between these populations promotes genetic diversity, reducing cases of inbreeding. Habitat corridors also provide food and shelter for living species and assist them during seasonal migrations. Furthermore, these natural highways help to reduce vehicle collisions with large animals like deer.
While the establishment of habitat corridors is a small step in addressing the massive problem of biodiversity loss, it is a valuable investment in the health of the ecosystem at large. As constant receivers of nature’s privileges, we have both the ability and the responsibility to give some of our thoughtfulness and gratitude to the environment in return. This will require an interdisciplinary approach as well as stronger collaboration between various sectors, from businesses and scientific institutions to civil society organizations and local communities.