What is biodiversity?
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Biodiversity is an all encompassing term to describe the variety of all life and natural processes on Earth.
The Convention on Biological Diversity defines biodiversity as “the variability among living organisms from all sources [...] this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems” (Article 2, CBD).
Why is biodiversity so important?
Have you ever considered that the glass of clear, cold, clean water drawn from your faucet may have been purified for you by a wetland or perhaps the root system of an entire forest? Too often people take the availability of products and goods for granted. If we follow the chain of production for many products back to the source, more often than not we arrive back at biodiversity.
Continued loss of biodiversity will result in a rapid decline of the Earth’s natural wealth and a dramatic reduction of future ecosystem services. Agricultural production will dramatically decrease if bacteria and fungi, which make soil fertile and breakdown wastes disappear. The same will happen if insects, bats and birds – which ensure flower pollination – reduce in numbers. With 42% of anti-cancer drugs coming from natural sources, biodiversity loss will force us to face unprecedented challenges.
We are losing both the beauty and richness of our natural environment as well as destabilising the very ecological processes on which we depend. There can be no life on Earth without biodiversity.
To fight the continuous loss of biodiversity which is threatening the survival of the world as a whole, in 2002 world leaders committed to reduce this loss by 2010, following the pledge EU countries had already made in 2001. Find out more on the 2010 Biodiversity Target.
Facts and Figures
- Trends of some 3,000 wild populations of species show a consistent decline in average species abundance of about 40% between 1970 and 2000. Species present in rivers, lakes and marshlands have declined by 50%.
- Declines are alarming in amphibians, mammals, birds in agricultural lands, corals and commonly harvested fish species.
- In the North Atlantic, fish have declined by 66% in the last 50 years.
- Since 2000, 6 million hectares of primary forest have been lost each year.
- In the Caribbean region, hard coral cover has declined from 50% to 10% in the last three decades.
- 35% of mangroves have been lost in just 20 years.
- The value of global ecosystem services is estimated at $16-$64 trillion.
What are the threats to biodiversity?
- 99% of threatened species are at risk from human activities.
- Habitat loss and degradation are the leading threats. They affect 86% of all threatened birds, 86% of the threatened mammals assessed and 88% of the threatened amphibians.
- Introductions of alien species. Some of the worst include cats and rats, green crabs, zebra mussels, the African tulip tree and the brown tree snake. Introductions of alien species can happen deliberately or unintentionally, for example, by organisms “hitch-hiking” in containers, ships, cars or soil.
- Over-exploitation. Resource extraction, hunting, and fishing for food, pets, and medicine threatens many species.
- Pollution and diseases.
- Human-induced climate change is increasingly recognized as a crucial threat. Climate change is altering migratory species patterns, causing coral bleaching, etc.
Other important findings
These statistics from the IUCN Red List 2009 indicate that a minimum of 16,928 species are threatened with extinction: 21% of mammals, 12% of birds, 31% of reptiles, 30% of amphibians and 37% of fish globally are threatened.
The European Red List, published by IUCN and the European Commission, reveals that 23% of amphibians and 19% of reptiles (2009), 15% of mammals (2007) and 13% of birds (2004) in Europe are threatened with extinction.
The latest assessment (2009) by the European Environment Agency led initiative Streamlining of European Biodiversity Indicators (SEBI 2010) warns that the number of invasive species in Europe continues to increase rapidly, with more and and more negative economic and ecological consequences.
At European level, the Mid-Term Assessment of Implementing the EU Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), published in December 2008, shows that 50% of species, over 40% of European bird species and up to 80% of habitat types have an unfavorable conservation status.
The first findings of the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study (TEEB) released in 2008 concluded that, in a “business as usual” scenario, the current decline in biodiversity and related loss of ecosystem services will continue and even accelerate. The annual welfare loss generated by the loss of ecosystem services by 2050 has been estimated at 6% of global GDP.
As noted by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) released in March 2005, human activities have taken the planet to the edge of a massive wave of species extinctions, further threatening our own well-being. For instance, current rates of loss are estimated at 100 to 1,000 times natural background levels. The global situation is alarming as pressures on biodiversity have intensified. Increasing demand for agricultural land, food and energy crops places even greater pressures on natural systems.
At international level, the second Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO2), launched in March 2006 in Brazil, assessed the current status and trends of biodiversity and the key drivers of biodiversity loss by putting a special emphasis on how ecosystem services contribute to human well-being, raising the fact that humanity’s future depends on healthy ecosystems.
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