The Significance of Biodiversity in Sustaining a Healthy Ecosystem

The Global Impact of Human Expansion

The world we inhabit is increasingly dominated by our species, and this poses a potential threat to other living beings. It is imperative to acknowledge this issue, and perhaps there is a possibility of a more harmonious coexistence of 8 billion humans with an unknown, yet certainly several billion, other living beings. Species such as land turtles, chameleons, forest skinks, and cetaceans are incredibly vulnerable to environmental degradation (deforestation, fires, overfishing, pollution, and the essential loss of habitat for their survival), making their preservation seem nearly impossible today. We witness them gradually or rapidly disappearing from the ‘hotspots’ where they were once confined, observing the global governments’ indifference, which focuses solely on growth, disregarding the importance of respecting the nature that envelops us. The earnest admonitions of a Church figure, such as Pope Francis, who has unequivocally advocated for all living beings – those beyond the human species entitled to equal rights on this planet – seem to have minimal impact.

The Evolution of Biodiversity Awareness

Among the pioneers in using the term “biodiversity” was Elliott Norse in an American government report, 1980. Later, in 1984, Bruce A. Wilcox introduced the term “Biological Diversity.” The abbreviated form “BioDiversity” was first coined by Walter G. Rosen during the forum organized in Washington between September 21 and 24, 1986, by the National Academy of Sciences and the Smithsonian Institution. In that same year, a booklet on the subject was authored by a technical committee, the Office of Technological Assessment, established in response to a request from a U.S. senator seeking a precise understanding of the term. The booklet elucidated the meaning and defined the term biodiversity as “the variety of living organisms, their genetic variability, and the ecological complexes they are part of.” In simpler terms, biodiversity encompasses species, their abundance, genetic variability, relationships among them, and the ecological and evolutionary processes involving them within ecosystems.

The Interconnectedness of Biodiversity and Evolution

Biological diversity, as both a noun and an adjective, can merge into a single term where the adjective becomes a prefix of the noun. Biodiversity cannot exist without evolution; biological, ecological, and evolutionary times play a crucial role in shaping biodiversity, representing an interdisciplinary theme in ecology. The primary cause of biodiversity erosion is the destruction of habitats, directly dependent on the expansion of the human population and its productive activities. Today, there are eight billion inhabitants on Earth, and the growth of the world population is worrisome, particularly because it is largely uneducated in its relationship with nature. Intervention is needed at all educational levels, starting with elementary school children, through programs that promote respect for nature and the protection of biodiversity. It is essential to restore a harmonious relationship with natural environments and, above all, to help people understand the proper meaning of biodiversity, a term that is often misused.

Humanity’s Path Away from Biodiversity

The goal that humanity must achieve is not outlined in any political agenda; it is precisely the opposite of current trends. In the agendas of politicians worldwide, there should be a gradual shift away from intensive agriculture, reforestation, the use of renewable energies, and a gradual decrease in the world population. Unfortunately, none of these measures are in place. Instead, there is a continuous and exasperating narrative of economic growth, next-generation nuclear power, and denialist attitudes towards climate change. In other words, the rhetoric has spurred Greta Thunberg to express herself with the well-known phrase that has criticized politicians globally: “Everything we hear from our so-called leaders, words that may sound grand, has so far led to no action. Of course, we need constructive dialogue, but for 30 years, all we’ve heard is blah blah blah.”

The Anthropocene and Extinction

What is defined as the Anthropocene, the modern era dominated by humans, represents a new episode of extinctions of animal and plant species. This is not due to natural causes but is largely attributed to the activities of one particularly numerous species – humans. An animal or plant population must be able to maintain its vitality and potential for evolutionary adaptations. Researchers agree that the primary cause of the extinction of many species is the ongoing loss of habitat in its natural state, which excessively reduces the number of individuals and the genetic potential that can be expressed. The concept of the Minimum Viable Population (MVP) represents the number of individuals above the ‘critical’ value necessary to avert the danger of a species’ extinction. Habitat fragmentation can gradually lead to the extinction of a species precisely because its individuals may fall below the MVP. The crucial aspect of large numbers depends on genetic variability and heterozygosity, which can only be ensured by a population consisting of numerous individuals; otherwise, long-term conservation is not possible.

Principles of Biodiversity Conservation

Generally, researchers believe that the central principles for biodiversity conservation include at least the following five:

1) Well-distributed species are less vulnerable than those confined to small portions of their range;

2) Large portions of habitat containing many individuals of a given species can more easily support it compared to small portions of habitat with few individuals;

3) Fragments of habitat close to each other are preferable to widely dispersed fragments;

4) Unfragmented and contiguous habitat portions are qualitatively superior to highly fragmented ones;

5) One or more habitats separating protected areas are more easily traversed by dispersing individuals of a given species if they have characteristics similar to the species’ preferred habitat.

One cannot disagree with these principles, according to which, in healthy ecosystems, biological diversity is more likely to be safeguarded. A healthy ecosystem signifies an environment characterized by soils rich in microflora and microfauna, where numerous interactions occur among plant and animal species. It also includes a high number of species, including the so-called keystone species that regulate the system’s functioning at an ecological level. A healthy ecosystem represents a portion of the Earth in which the various components enjoy excellent health.

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