Put simply, biodiversity refers to the variety of life that exists in any ecosystem, both among species and within each species. This includes plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms. Ecosystems with a healthy variety of life naturally recycle nutrients, produce dramatically more resources, break down pollution faster, effectively clean and filter water, develop naturally healthy soil, maintain healthy breeding stocks of animals and ensure that the environment is sustainable in the event of a natural disaster. Thus, biodiversity is essential for healthy people and a healthy environment.
Biodiversity benefits for people
People draw numerous direct benefits from living in a biologically diverse system. Almost half of drugs currently on the market are derived from microbes, plants or animals which exist in complex ecosystems throughout the world. In fact, the systems with the highest biological diversity, such as rainforests, are the main focus of researchers looking for the new and important drugs for the future.
The security of our foodstock also depends on a wide variety of plants and animals. Plants that exist in competition with a large number of species evolve important traits such as drought and disease resistance, increased productivity and insect repellant. It is actually when people depend too heavily on any one crop that we become vulnerable to agricultural disasters that threaten the food supply.
Additionally, many of the animals that are the source of our food exist within a complex ecosystem. For example, most of the fish that people depend on grow up sheltered in wetland environments where they feed on small microorganisms, while at the same time being an important source of food for birds and larger fish. Even a small disruption in these systems can have dramatic effects throughout the food chain.
Biodiversity benefits for the environment
Fresh water, healthy soil, clean air, climate stability and species survival are just a few of the environmental benefits of biodiversity. Complex ecosystems filter water through the soil to eliminate pollutants and harmful microbes. In fact, millions of people depend on this process for their drinking water. Healthy soils also require biodiversity because they need a constant influx of life that can be broken down by microorganisms. The byproducts of this process are the building blocks of new healthy plant life.
Having a large variety of plants also helps maintain clean air because they absorb a number of harmful pollutants. These include carbon dioxide from energy production, sulfur dioxide from coal burning and refining, ozone from vehicles, Nitrogen oxides from exhaust, and other particulates from burning fuels such as diesel. A healthy ecosystem can limit the negative effects of numerous human activities and help maintain a more stable climate.
Finally, species depend on diversity to evolve and thrive. When populations are diminished to a small number, they can be wiped out by even small genetic defects within a few members, or by a natural disaster. With a large and diverse population, they are able to thrive and evolve to face changes in the environment, in food supply and in predator behaviour.
The most biologically diverse areas of the world are, not surprisingly, also some of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring.Culture, tourism and education depend on people visiting, learning and being motivated to maintain these natural treasures.