Friday May 22nd is the International Day for Biological Diversity. In the resolution proclaiming this day the UN General Assembly expressed its deep concern about the continuing loss of the world’s biological diversity, and affirmed a commitment to the conservation of biological diversity.
Biological diversity – or biodiversity – is the term given to the variety of life on Earth. It is the variety within and between all species of plants, animals and micro-organisms and the ecosystems within which they live and interact. Biodiversity comprises all the millions of different species that live on our planet, as well as the genetic differences within species. It also refers to the multitude of different ecosystems in which species form unique communities, interacting with one another and the air, water and soil. There are something like 8.7 million plant and animal species in the world, 59,000 of which can be found in Britain.
People depend on biodiversity in their daily lives, in ways that are not always apparent or appreciated. Human health ultimately depends upon ecosystem products and services (such as the availability of fresh water, food and fuel sources) which are essential for good human health and productive livelihoods. Biodiversity loss can have significant direct human health impacts if ecosystem services are no longer adequate to meet social needs. Indirectly, changes in ecosystem services affect livelihoods, income, local migration and, on occasion, may even cause political conflict and wars.
Additionally, biophysical diversity of microorganisms, flora and fauna provides extensive knowledge which carry important benefits for biological, health, and pharmacological sciences. Significant medical and pharmacological discoveries are made through greater understanding of the earth’s biodiversity. Loss in biodiversity may limit discovery of potential treatments for many diseases and health problems.
There is growing concern about the health consequences of biodiversity loss and change. Biodiversity changes affect ecosystem functioning and significant disruptions of ecosystems can result in life sustaining ecosystem goods and services being destroyed.
Like the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, humanity now finds itself in the midst of a mass extinction: a global evolutionary catastrophe with few parallels in the entire history of life. Our future – our very survival – is totally linked to biodiversity and the pathway to either its destruction or restoration is for us to choose.