Biodiversity loss

Biodiversity Loss

“Human activity is putting such strain on the natural functions of Earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.”
—Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005

Biodiversity is the number and variety of species that can be found in local ecosystems and on the planet as a whole. This includes species of plants, mammals, fish, birds, insects and all the other living organisms and their genetic diversity. Biodiversity also includes the genetic diversity and the diversity of the ecosystems on Earth.

The variety is important to keeping the natural systems running, like capital in the bank. In the same way that an investor will put money in different pots that provide different kinds of returns in different economic situations, the variety of natural capital assets is required to ensure that the biosphere can keep functioning and also allow for resilience in extreme situations. It is all these organisms simply living out their daily lives that facilitate ecosystem functions and the provision of ecosystem services, the life support services we all depend on.

The Problem

  • Human-caused biodiversity loss is occurring 1000-times faster than the “natural” rate typical of Earth’s long-term history.
  • Ecosystem services are provided by nature at no cost to humans. These include critical life-supporting services such as clean water, clean air, food, fuel, nutrient cycling, soil formation, climate regulation, storm and flood management, erosion regulation, genetic resources, waste treatment, pest regulation, pollination, carbon sequestration, recreation and ecotourism, spiritual connection, and aesthetic qualities.
  • Virtually all of Earth’s ecosystems have now been dramatically altered through human activity.
  • Biodiversity loss is driven by habitat loss which is driven by economic growth.
  • There is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and biodiversity conservation. Politicians who believe that “We can have a healthy, diverse environment and a healthy, growing economy, are fundamentally wrong.
  • Biodiversity loss is occurring globally, even in protected areas, both terrestrial and marine.
  • See also, Economic Growth on this website.

The Solution

  •  Continue to protect areas as buffer zones in which various lifeforms will have a better chance of survival. They must, however, be seen as “stop gaps”, while the root causes of biodiversity loss are addressed. Many ecologists believe that at least 50% of the Earth’s ecosystems must be protected and left in their natural state in order to provide sufficient ecosystem services.
  • Develop new policy and regulations internationally, including development of new indicators and regular monitoring programs.
  • Limit further population growth so that enough ecosystems can be left operating to ensure that ecosystem services continue to be provided for all living organisms.
  • Consume less, so that we reduce the need for more resources from the structure of ecosystems. This would also reduce the wastes we dump into these natural systems.
  • Understand more about our local and regional ecosystems, the species that live there, their needs for survival, the ecosystem services they are linked to and how we impact them.
  • Incorporate the needs of vegetation, fish, people, and other wildlife, in our water management policies to ensure there is enough to keep local ecosystems functioning even with projected changes in climate.
  • Plan all communities and their populations to lie within the local and regional carrying capacity.
  • Move to a sustainable, steady state economy.

Web sites and articles

  1. Canadian Biodiversity
  2. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
    The most comprehensive, objective global approach for evaluating the conservation status of the Earth’s plant and animal species.
  3. Millenium Ecosystem Assessment
    The largest study of the health of the planet’s ecosystems up to 2005.
  4. Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
    A new body similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that will fill in the gaps in the science-policy interface on biodiversity and ecosystem services.
  5. UN launches Decade on Biodiversity to stem loss of ecosystems
  6. Reed F. Noss, Andrew P. Dobson, Robert Baldwin, Paul Beier, Cory R. Davis, Dominick A. Dellasala, John Francis, Harvey Locke, Katarzyna Nowak, Roel Lopez, Conrad Reining, Stephen C. Trombulak and Gary Tabor. 2012. Bolder thinking for conservation. Conservation Biology 26: 1–4.
  7. Mace, G. M. And Baillie, J. E. M. 2007. The 2010 Biodiversity Indicators: Challenges for Science and Policy. Conservation Biology 21: 1406–1413.
  8. Granek, E. F., Polasky, S., Kappel, C. V., Reed, D. J., Stoms, D. M., Koch, E. W., Kennedy, C. J., Cramer, L. A., Hacker, S. D., Barbier, E. B., Aswani, S., Ruckelshaus, M., Perillo, G. M. E., Silliman, B. R., Muthiga, N., Bael, D. and Wolanski, E. 2010. Ecosystem Services as a Common Language for Coastal Ecosystem-Based Management. Conservation Biology, 24: 207–216.
    Though this paper uses the Puget Sound project as an example of applying this concept, the Qualicum Institute found that they did not apply the concept of Carrying Capacity to their project and suggest that this significantly impacted the results. We suggest this paper as a starting point only.


Official video of the International Year of Biodiversity 2010

Why Biodiversity Matters
David Suzuki Foundation

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