Why is biodiversity so important and why conserve it?
Ecosystems and their species perform important biological services, for example, green plants remove carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the atmosphere, which helps keep the environment healthy and fit for human life. Although we still have much to learn about the often complex function of ecosystems, and about which species perform critical roles, we know that if an ecosystem is altered in any way, it might not be able to perform some of its important services. Economic arguments also provide compelling reasons for conserving species. Different species of plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms provide us with food, medicines, fuel, building materials, fibre for clothing and industrial products.
Biological Services Performed by Ecosystems
Protecting areas from soil erosion, floods and other harmful weather conditions: Vegetation cover helps to protect soils from erosion. Woodlands and hedges provide useful windbreaks in farm areas, and the vegetation on mudflats and sand dunes can help protect coastal areas from erosion by the sea and wind.
Reducing the risk of local and global climate change: Ecosystems help maintain a healthy balance of gases in the atmosphere. Trees and other plants store carbon and help prevent the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, reducing the risk of global warming.
Recycling nutrients: Bacteria and fungi play a crucial role in recycling nutrients in ecosystems. Some plants play a crucial role in the fixation of nitrogen in the soil. Nitrogen fixation is the process of converting atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia.
Pollination and biological control: Some animals, especially birds, bats and insects perform important functions as pollinators of food plants such as vegetables and fruit, and are also often the natural enemies of weeds, pests and diseases that can harm crops.
Controlling pollutants: Plants like reeds act as natural filters, helping to remove waste from surface waters and many bacteria can help break down low level pollutants.
Monitoring the health of the environment: Some species can indicate a change in the environment. For example, the breeding failure among birds of prey can point to a build up of pesticides in the system. Lichens such as those found growing on your school walls and on the trees may be sensitive indicators of levels of air pollution.
Food: The provision of food is the most fundamental benefit that humans get from other life forms, and humans have always depended on animals and plants for meat, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and other natural products.
Medicines: Wild species have been used as sources of drugs for thousands of years. The medicinal potential of plants and animals is often considered a compelling reason to conserve biodiversity as some species are highly valued for their medicinal properties.
Commercial uses: Human societies have traditionally used plant and animal products like wool and fur for clothing, and wood for building construction and fuel. Other plant and animal products used in industry include feathers, skins, glues, rubber, oils, waxes, starches and dyes.
Cultural and aesthetic values: Historically, some species have played an important role in the folklore and traditions of many cultures. Species may also have heritage value as national symbols: for example, in Ireland, the three leafed clover (Trifolium) symbolises the nation’s identity and heritage. Biodiversity also has important recreational and aesthetic values. Biodiversity also has educational and inspirational value.
Intrinsic values: For example, knowing that something exists is satisfying in itself, and the loss of a charismatic species, such as giant pandas and blue whales, represents a considerable loss of ‘existence value’. However, it is impossible to quantify and, unfortunately, many species, such as slugs and slime moulds, will never enjoy ‘existence value’. Many people also hold strong personal beliefs, feeling a great respect for the whole of nature and a responsibility to hand on to the next generation a world that is as rich in life as the world we live in today.