Why is Biodiversity Important

Biodiversity is a term used to describe the degree of diversity of life forms in a system. The system in question may be an ecosystem, biome or the whole planet. Greater biodiversity equals greater health in the system. Every living thing is dependent on many other living things for their existence. All life on the planet is interdependent in some way with most of the other living animals and plants on the planet. That may sound like a grandiose statement ,but it is true nevertheless.

The beef on our grill is only there because of clover, hay, soy beans etc. that was consumed by the animal. The animal’s feed was dependent on bees, wind and other pollinators. The very wind itself is dependent in part on weather systems which are affected by cities, which hold heat, and trees which cool air. The animal’s feed is also dependent on the condition of the ground it was grown in which depends on micro-organisms to make it fertile.

The Earth’s ecosystem is a delicately balanced and infinitely complicated universe unto itself. Many think it cannot be permanently destroyed but will instead always find a way to achieve equilibrium. However, few who have given any real thought to the matter doubt our survival depends on that balance not swinging too wildly before finding equilibrium. It behooves everyone to consider both the unintended as well as intentional consequences of any action such as introducing or eradicating a species or making any wide reaching changes to an ecosystem.

In addition to the importance of over-all biodiversity there is also the diversity of individual species for human consumption. Crops whose ancestors only comprise a few genetic strains may be improved by the addition of varieties obtained by breeding with wild varieties, however the destruction of the environment of the wild varieties makes this problematic. Diversity of crop varieties is important if disease or a predator attacks the most popular varieties grown. The Irish potato blight is an example of this. In 1846, approximately one million Irish died when the only two potato varieties planted both suffered from blight.

Biodiversity is also important to the medical field. Approximately 25 to 50 percent of the pharmaceutical compounds in the U.S. market derive from plants and animals, but only a small fraction of wild species have been studied for medicinal contribution potential. Diversity is even important in bacteria that produce disease in man because, unfortunately, when the varieties of bacteria are reduced, it is the anti-biotic resistant varieties which survive. For this reason the medical profession has worked to reduce the use of antibiotics to only those situations where they are necessary and productive.  

Although the majority may not realize the extent to which biodiversity affects them, the loss of that diversity will make an unhappy impression on everyone if it is allowed to be lost.