Scientists sound the alarm about the poor state of biodiversity. Across the globe, one million species are threatened with imminent extinction. Nature areas and ecosystems are being sacrificed hand over foot. Why do we need biodiversity? Below are six reasons you should know.
1. Climate change and biodiversity are inextricably linked
Nature plays a crucial role in the fight against climate change. Destruction of forests, tundras and oceans releases greenhouse gases, accelerating global warming. Research shows that a diverse forest absorbs more carbon. Moreover, diverse nature forms a barrier against extreme weather such as storms, wildfires and landslides. Precisely for this goal, the UN, EU and scientists want to grant at least 30% of all ecosystems a protected status. At WUR, we work on integrated solutions focusing on the interplay between climate and biodiversity.
2. Food security
Two-thirds of our food is obtained from just nine crops, while there are some 6000 varieties we could grow and consume. This renders our food system vulnerable to extreme weather, pests and diseases. Could we survive without rice, wheat or soy? Conserving and increasing biodiversity in our food system is essential. We need to conserve and breed different varieties of crops that are more resistant to diseases and climate change. There are also cow breeds that emit less methane, produce both milk and meat and are more robust. A more plant-based diet could help in the transition to more sustainable kinds of protein. If we want both biodiversity and healthy food, changing the way we produce and consume food is one of the major challenges for the near future.
3. Clean air and water
Trees turn CO2 into oxygen. Plants use solar energy to grow. Shellfish purify the water. Bacteria break down organic material into nutrients. Bees pollinate flowers and crops, enabling them to reproduce. Without all these living organisms, we would not be able to survive. The greater the biodiversity, the more of these valuable and essential ecosystem services we can safeguard for the future.
4. Natural resources and feedstock
Our food, energy, feedstock, building materials and medicine are provided by nature. If these resources were to disappear, we would no longer be able to make new discoveries. The cure for cancer or the solution for sustainable energy may well be within reach if we make efforts to protect ecosystems and plant varieties and catalogue and research their potential. Biodiversity is thus an “insurance policy” against unknown changes in the future.
5. Preventing diseases and pests
Species are interdependent. Predators and prey, the animals and plants they eat, fungi in the soil and roots of trees. If a species or ecosystem disappears, a chain reaction may follow. Other species may not be able to survive, or they may thrive and cause plagues. Consider, for example, mosquitoes, the oak processionary moth or the Japanese knotweed. Animals may also transfer diseases (such as COVID-19) to each other and humans, especially in situations of close proximity. Increased genetic biodiversity makes species less vulnerable. Moreover, smaller and larger species create a balance, as it is mostly the smaller species that are carriers of disease.
6. Quality of life
Nature and biodiversity are beneficial to our health, well-being and quality of life. People feel better in nature, interact more positively and recover faster. Tourism and the leisure sector are dependent on nature. We identify ourselves with the places we enjoy visiting: you may be a real forest person or feel right at home in the mountains or on the beach. Various lifestyles and cultural customs cannot survive without the nature they depend upon.
It is no coincidence that WUR’s mission is ‘To explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life’. Together, we work on a biodiversity-positive future, in which we move from minimising damage to nature towards solutions that hone our planet’s resilience and bend the downward curve.
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