What is Biodiversity?

Biodiversity is the variability of living organisms from all sources, including terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic habitats, and the ecological complexes to which they belong; this involves a variety of species,  and ecosystems. Biodiversity is the most complex feature of our planet and it is the most vital. Without biodiversity, there is no future for humanity. Biodiversity is the foundation of our economy, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.

Biodiversity Loss

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) recent report identified significant areas of biodiversity loss across all eco-systems:

  • Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.
  • More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production.
  • The value of agricultural crop production has increased by about 300% since 1970, raw timber harvest has risen by 45% and approximately 60 billion tons of renewable and nonrenewable resources are now extracted globally every year – having nearly doubled since 1980.
  • Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface, up to US$577 billion in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection.
  • In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels; 60% were maximally sustainably fished, with just 7% harvested at levels lower than what can be sustainably fished.
  • Urban areas have more than doubled since 1992.
  • Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters, and fertilizers entering coastal ecosystems have produced more than 400 ocean ‘dead zones’, totalling more than 245,000 km2 (591-595) – a combined area greater than that of the United Kingdom.
  • Negative trends in nature will continue to 2050 and beyond in all of the policy scenarios explored in the Report, except those that include transformative change – due to the projected impacts of increasing land-use change, exploitation of organisms and climate change, although with significant differences between regions.
How does biodiversity affect elephants?
Elephants modify their environments. And, because different types of animals rely on different types of plants, this can promote species biodiversity, providing new niches for organisms to inhabit. Elephants also modify savannah habitats by pulling down trees and breaking up thorny bushes.
  • Within the past century the African elephant population has decreased by 96 percent, from 10 million in 1930 to a few hundred thousand today.
  • In the last forty years, elephant habitat has decreased by nearly two thirds largely due to human activities.
  • Without urgent intervention conservationists predict elephants will be extinct in the wild within 20 years.
  • IUCN has updated its red list of threatened species to include the African elephant. It is now split into two different categories with the Savanah elephant classified as endangered and the forest elephant classified as critically endangered. It highlights a broadscale decline in African elephant numbers across the continent. The number of African forest elephants fell by more than 86% over a period of 31 years, while the population of African savanna elephants decreased by at least 60% over the last 50 years, according to the assessments.
How do elephants contribute to biodiversity?
Elephants help maintain forest and savanna ecosystems for other species and are integrally tied to rich biodiversity. Elephants are important ecosystem engineers. They make pathways in dense forested habitat that allow passage for other animals. Elephant herds that dwell in forests also help sequester more atmospheric CO2. They do so by feeding on fast-growing plants in more open spaces, which facilitates the spread of slow-growing trees with higher wood density. These latter plants are better at sequestering carbon from the air. The article below gives a detailed analysis: cr. IMF – Finance and Development

Economic Value – What is Nature’s $10 Trillion dollar wake-up call to global economy?

How much is an elephant worth? Meet the ecologists doing the sums

The value of biodiversity is not the same as its price

What is IPBES?

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is an independent intergovernmental body established by States to strengthen the science-policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, long-term human well-being and sustainable development. It was established in Panama City, on 21 April 2012 by 94 Governments.  It is not a United Nations body.  However, at the request of the IPBES Plenary and with the authorization of the UNEP Governing Council in 2013, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) provides secretariat services to IPBES.  See here for more information on the history of IPBES.

Below are a number of articles in relation to loss of biodiversity, the pandemic and how they are interrelated:

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