The Brilliance of Biodiversity and Devastating Impact of Climate Change

Biodiversity in essence is very simple; it is the variety of all life on Earth. The enormous array of organisms (aka living things) that live on the planet have arisen from millions of years of ingenious adaptation and evolution, populating a planet more abundant in diversity than any other.

Biodiversity refers to the variety of all life of Earth.

Scientifically, the term is broken down into three levels:

  • Genetic diversity – variation within the same species; for example, your brown hair differs from your friend’s blonde hair
  • Species diversity – variation between species within a habitat or region; despite both inhabiting the Amazon rainforest, a Sloth differs greatly from a Bullet Ant
  • Ecosystem diversity – variation of ecosystems. The ecosystem of the Gobi Desert is a very different environment to the ecosystem of the mangrove forests of Malaysia.

(An ecosystem is a community of organisms, their physical environment, and their interactions with it; for example, a monkey using vines to move about the forest, looking for fruit for nutrition)

Why Should I Care About Biodiversity?

Biodiversity certainly makes the world a beautiful and amazing place, but practically it is also crucial for our existence. The variety of organisms on Earth weave an intricate and complex web of life in delicate balance, which human activity is rapidly destroying.

Species rely on species; without bees for pollination and earthworms for soil health, crops would not grow.

Let’s dig into that a bit deeper. In essence, species rely on species. At a very basic level, the spuds you’ve roasted in the oven were pollinated by bees. Without pollination by the bees, they wouldn’t have grown. In turn, those bees rely on flowers for nectar. And without the balance of nitrites and other minerals maintained by earthworm activity underground, that flower would not have grown. It’s a simplistic example on the grand scale of things, but if you really start thinking about it, you’ll see how important the variation is to the existence of all life on Earth.

In the modern world we’ve unfortunately developed a dissociation with the natural environment we rely on every day. When you pick up some aspirin for a headache, you don’t see its origination from willow bark. You grab your prawns in a plastic freezer bag, without appreciating the environment they’ve relied upon to grow. This has caused a disconnect in our appreciation of our role and impact within the web of life.

How is Climate Change Affecting Biodiversity?

The variety of ecosystems on our planet exist in a fine balance, which is being thrown into chaos as humans continue to release emissions, warming the planet and altering conditions. And that is without even mentioning our role in depleting resources, destroying wild areas for urbanisation, and populating the planet with unnatural biomasses, such as enormous numbers of cattle and monocrops.

Global warming is resulting in the loss of crucial carbon-sequestering habitats like mangrove forests and peat wetlands.

In turn, loss of biodiversity further increases global warming as valuable, carbon-sequestering habitats such as mangrove forests and peat wetlands are lost. This results in a vicious cycle, slowly moving us toward an uninhabitable planet.

Lack of variety of life also increases our vulnerability. If an enormous number of plants in the form of crops, for example, share the same vulnerability to a particular pest, every crop in the group would be wiped out. If you compare that to the wide variety of plants found, for example, in a rainforest, it is possible that one or two of the plants may share vulnerability to that pest, but likelihood is that most other plants would survive. In the first instance, that could be an entire community’s food source wiped out.

This concept applies to all variety of life on Earth, from plants, to mammals, to ecosystems. Variation provides a sort of inbuilt, fallback safety mechanism to ensure the continuation of life.

Rising Temperatures

For many species, temperature alone has a direct impact on their ability to survive.

Cheetahs, already declining in number due to habitat loss and hunting, rely on a certain climate for healthy testosterone production. As temperatures rise, lowered levels of the hormone have been observed in males, resulting in decreased fertility.

Male cheetah fertility is damaged by the increasing temperatures of the environment, making the species even more vulnerable.

The sex of green turtle’s is dictated by the temperature of the sand surrounding the egg from which the baby emerges. Warmer temperatures result in females, meaning that as beaches around the world warm, there will be a shortage of male individuals and a resultant decline in the population of green turtles.

Habitat Destruction

Many habitats around the globe are becoming more vulnerable to destruction because of climate change.

The frequency, severity, and size of wildfires is related to environmental factors that are impacted by climate change, like temperature, soil quality and fauna abundance and dryness. There has been a dramatic upsurge in the occurrence of fires in places like Australia, Indonesia, Portugal and California. The wildfires of Australia in 2020 where declared as ‘one of the worst wildlife disasters in history’, with more than 46 million acres charred and more than 3 billion wild animals killed or displaced.

The wildfires in Australia in early 2020 were some of the most devastating on record, declared as ‘one of the worst wildlife disasters in history’.

Perhaps one of the most publicised habitat disasters is the melting of the sea ice in the Artic. Reports indicate that the polar bears, who rely upon the ice to hunt and breed, could be extinct by 2100 if melting continues at projected rates. Thawing of this frozen water is also raising sea levels, flooding not only human habitations but those of other wildlife too. Just a 50cm rise in sea levels could flood sea turtle nesting beaches, wipe out the beaches Mediterranean Monk seals rely on to raise pups and damage shallow coastal areas that dolphins and whales use as nurseries.

Mass migration of species is becoming more common, as wildlife is increasingly displaced by the changing conditions of their natural environment. Scientists have reported that this movement is likely to bring with it introduction of disease-carrying insects and crop pests, and loss of crucial pollinators, damaging and unbalancing our natural world even further.

Where Do We Go From Here?

It is crucial that humankind make the effort to nurture vulnerable and damaged ecosystems if balance is to be restored.

This is only a snippet of the affects that climate change and biodiversity have on each other. The intrinsic link between the two can result in either a viscous cycle or, in a thriving ecosystem, a beneficial upwards spiral. We are currently heading towards a perfect storm of eco-system destruction which will in turn make human life increasingly harder. To turn this around, we need to nurture these delicate ecosystems, ‘rewilding’ the earth as Attenborough puts it, to set in motion a beneficial cycle rather than the current destructive one.

Have you ever considered the connection between climate change and the diversity of life on the planet? Were you surprised by how interconnected all of life really is? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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