The Importance of Wildlife and the Diversity of Life
Biological diversity is critical to human welfare
What is the diversity of life? Biological diversity, or “biodiversity” for short, refers to the vast variety of wild plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms that live on our planet. Unfortunately, because we lack the vast resources that would be required to exhaustively survey every nook and cranny on the globe, scientists don’t know exactly how many species exist beyond the 1.5 million already named and described. Most estimates of the number of species range anywhere between 5 to 30 million.
We also cannot say precisely how quickly we’re losing biodiversity. The rate of species extinction most often given by scientists is about 1,000 times the “background rate” of extinctions that would occur without human influence. We do know that both human health and the well-being of our planet depend on biodiversity, and so a shrinking biodiversity has the potential for severe consequences.
Why biological diversity matters
Biodiversity can — and should — be thought of as more than a number. It’s a pharmacy that provides us with essential medicines, and a supermarket that is the ultimate source of all our food stocks. It’s also a library that inspires and informs designers and engineers, and a source of recreation for millions of people who fish, hunt, bird-watch or enjoy nature in other ways.
More than 40,000 species of plants, animals, fungi and microscopic animals are used in some way to benefit humans, according to a study by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. More than a third of our pharmaceuticals originated with wild plants, from common drugs like aspirin to life-saving medicines like Vincristine, which has greatly reduced childhood leukemia deaths. With most wild species not yet tested, more medicinal discoveries await us.
The use of wild plant stocks for human food sources is a subject of ongoing agricultural research. As well as developing new food products for expanding human populations, agricultural scientists turn to wild plants for resistant strains when disease strikes our crops.
Benefits: from household products to technological innovation
The industry also benefits from wild plants and animals. We use glues, lubricants, solvents, and perfumes made manufactured from chemicals that originated in nature. Engineers also turn to life forms for inspiration: the Navy funded a study and prototype for a submarine that is modeled on fish movement, and the brain circuits of tiny worms known as nematodes were the model for an electronic robot the Navy developed to detect landmines at sea.
Another crucial component of biodiversity is what scientists call “ecosystem services.” Forested watersheds provide clean drinking water. Wetlands filter pollutants, offering a natural water purification service. Trees also reduce pollutants, improving air quality. In a process known as nitrogen fixation, microorganisms that live only on certain plants convert atmospheric nitrogen into the form that is essential for the growth of all living plants and animals.
Other benefits of biodiversity can’t be measured in dollars or otherwise quantified. Biological diversity enriches our lives by making the world an immeasurably more beautiful and interesting place to live. When plants and animals vanish, we lose something irreplaceable.
Why are we losing biodiversity?
The major cause of species loss in the U.S. and worldwide is the loss and degradation of habitat. As forests, wetlands, prairies, coastal estuaries and other habitats are converted to residential, commercial or agricultural use and other types of development, wild plants and animals vanish. In addition, many areas are known as “hotspots” for their unusually rich biodiversity, such as Florida and Southern California, also have rapidly expanded human populations, which accelerates the loss of biodiversity.
In the U.S. non-native species are the second largest cause of species loss. Hundreds of Hawaii’s unique wildlife and plants are being driven to extinction by non-native plants and animals. Other factors are pollution, disease, over-fishing, and over-hunting.
The renowned scientist and Harvard Professor E.O. Wilson have studied and written about biodiversity for decades. He tells us: “The worst thing that can happen will happen is not energy depletion, economic collapse, limited nuclear war, or conquest by a totalitarian government. As terrible as these catastrophes will be for us, they can be repaired within a few generations. The one process ongoing . . . that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us.”
Posted: 04-May-2006; Updated: 29-Jul-2007
Fuelled by media coverage and the inclusion of conservation education in early school curriculum, Wildlife tourism & Ecotourism has fast become a popular industry generating substantial income for developing nations with rich wildlife especially, Africa and India. This ever-growing and ever becoming more popular form of tourism are providing the much-needed incentive for poor nations to conserve their rich wildlife heritage and its habitat.
The Importance of Wildlife
The Earth’s biodiversity supports human life and society. We depend on other organisms, at least to some degree, for virtually every element of our lives. Our food, our medicines, chemicals, a variety of building materials, and much of our clothing derive from living things. Even fossil fuels such as coal and oil, which supply most of the world’s power, are formed from organisms that lived millions of years ago. About 90 percent of all the calories that people consume are supplied by only about 100 kinds of plants, though there are tens of thousands of kinds of plants we might use as food. As the human population continues to grow, and as agricultural land becomes increasingly limited, the few species of plants that supply our food may no longer be sufficient. Soon people may need to look to other species to find food crops for the future. But by then, biodiversity may have diminished beyond hope.
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