Biodiversity is a comprehensive concept. It includes the diversity of all life on earth, from flowers and bees to bacteria and tropical forests. Biodiversity is essential to humankind, for it is the foundation for our food, clean air, soil quality and other ecosystem services. Biodiversity and nature also benefit our well-being: green is good for us. Moreover, biodiversity has intrinsic value: who are we to decide whether a panda or tiger deserves to live?
Despite the value of biodiversity, it is under significant threat. Images of deforested wastelands where tropical rainforests once stood to monocultural farming systems are well known. Deforestation, urbanisation, industrialisation, pollution and climate change all contribute to the alarming loss of biodiversity. Scientists sound the alarm. The loss of biodiversity threatens our very existence, and there is no time to waste in diverting this downward spiral.
Reversing biodiversity loss
Biodiversity loss curve:
Black: The historical biodiversity loss curve before 2010
Green: with effort through more sustainable production and consumption
Orange: without more sustainable production and consumption
Grey: if we continue on our current path
This infographic was published in Nature magazine: Bending the curve of terrestrial biodiversity needs an integrated strategy
Working to save biodiversity: the Wageningen approach
Wageningen University & Research (WUR) has been working towards this goal for many years through the “Wageningen approach”. From within numerous disciplines, our ecologists, soil experts, plant and animal scientists, behavioural scientists, transition scientists and other experts study biodiversity issues that affect land, freshwater systems and the seas. Moreover, they are in close contact with involved parties across the globe.
Thanks to this unique pooling of knowledge, WUR has assumed a leading role in halting the decline of biodiversity. The global biodiversity, food and climate issues cannot be considered separately and can only be solved through an integral (evidence-based) scientific approach. Success can be achieved if all parties in these domains join forces. Not just scientists, but businesses, governments, citizens and civic organisation as well. WUR aims to lead as a global unifier in developing new innovations and integrated solutions to restore biodiversity in a sustainable and just manner.
How detrimental is loss of biodiversity?
Simply put, biodiversity includes the entire diversity of all life forms on earth. Not just the number of species and their genetic variation (different potato strains, for example) but also the way these species and variants are interconnected and how they interact. This may appear abstract, but in reality, it is not. Biodiversity is what flies through the air, grows in the ground, swims in the water and ends up on your plate. Almost everything we eat, use as construction materials, medication or as industrial feedstock, is linked to biodiversity in one way or another. Biodiversity also exists in ecosystems, from forests to fields and from deserts to coral reefs.
Biodiversity in ecosystems keeps our planet inhabitable. It filters the air, water and soil—moreover, biodiversity cushions climate change and impacts health. A stroll through nature benefits us. Biodiversity is so natural that we often overlook it. Just imagine how serious it would be if these natural things disappeared from our lives. You don’t miss it till it’s gone. That is why a shift in our thinking and acting is urgently needed.
A biodiverse environment can help flowers and plants to regain their natural resistance and so keep diseases and pests under control. Resistant soils, resistant plants and sustainable cultivation systems are all an important part of this, and can be combined with techniques such as crop rotation, mixed cropping or flower-rich field margins with host plants for valuable insects. But we also need state-of-the-art tools to understand how natural resistance works so that we can identify and understand the enormous group of soil microorganisms and develop practical applications.
Our seas and rivers are full of life, but the biodiversity of these waters is threatened by human activities. Experts from Wageningen University & Research are studying various aspects of marine and aquatic habitats, from plastic waste and wind farms in the North Sea to coral reefs and sharks on the Saba Bank..
Our common interest in biodiversity is enshrined in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). NLBIF is a Dutch data hub and part of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). Various institutes of Wageningen University & Research participate in NLBIF/GBIF and the University is currently one of the largest European suppliers of open data on biodiversity. The Dutch Environmental Compendium for the Living Environment, co-edited by Wageningen University & Research, provides a wealth of facts and figures on nature and the environment.
Our cities are dependent on natural processes, for example to drain off rainwater and reduce heat. Trees provide cleaner air, bees pollinate flowers and green spaces are demonstrably benefical for our well-being. But nature is intrinsically valuable too. Researchers from Wageningen are involved in various projects on themes such as endangered animals and plants in the city, tiny forests, urban agriculture, and green buildings and industrial areas. “Giant steps have been taken, but there are also major barriers.”