The human race is directly and indirectly dependent on biodiversity. In addition to our food, the vast majority of our building materials, medicines and industrial raw materials are of biological origin. The economic and social value of biodiversity is enormous. At least 40% of the world economy depends on natural resources, while 80% of the world’s poorest people rely on these resources to meet their basic needs. But global biodiversity is under great pressure. According to some biologists, we are currently in the middle of a sixth wave of extinction, and the first to be caused by man.
Working to save biodiversity: the Wageningen approach
The starting point of all research conducted at Wageningen University & Research is that nature is not a raw material, but a partner on whom we are dependent for our survival. This forms the basis for innovations that facilitate the recovery and sustainable management of biodiversity and the renewal and improvement of genetic diversity, so that robust ecological and agricultural systems can be created that are resistant to climate change and pollution and that will continue to provide essential goods and services far into the future. One of the essential pillars of this research is our understanding of the dynamics of ecosystem resilience. We work together with social partners to promote ecosystem restoration as an investment in the future.
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.”