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Biodiversity

Biodiversity is a reletivley new term that represents the natural diversity that is part and parcel with our natural heritage.
It also is the subject of some of our most colouful and inspiring workshops. "hands down"
In these workshops we explore the intricate and truely magical connection between all living things in an eco system and the relationship of various eco systems on our entire biosphere. We also explore the vital need to preserve and enhance our bio diversity as part and parcel of our survival as a species.

Here we will explore the meanings of the terms Biodiversity and Natural Heritage.

Since 1986 the terms and the concept have achieved widespread use among biologists, environmentalists, political leaders, and concerned citizens worldwide. It is generally used to equate to a concern for the natural environment and nature conservation. This use has coincided with the expansion of concern over extinction observed in the last decades of the 20th century.

We like the way Wikipedia explored the subject... The term "natural heritage" pre-dates "biodiversity", though it is a less scientific term and more easily comprehended in some ways by the wider audience interested in conservation. However Bio Diversity is more descriptive of the essence of that heritage and that is "biological diversity". It is a good word but more importantly understanding the concept has become vitally important in the strugle to create and maintain a sustainable future.

The definition that is often used by ecologists is the "totality of genes, species, and ecosystems of a region". An advantage of this definition is that it seems to describe most circumstances and present a unified view of the traditional three levels at which biodiversity has been identified:

Genetic Diversity - diversity of genes within a species. There is a genetic variability among the populations and the individuals of the same species.

Species Diversity - diversity among species in an ecosystem. "Biodiversity hotspots" are excellent examples of species diversity.

Ecosystem Diversity - diversity at a higher level of organization, the ecosystem. To do with the variety of ecosystems on Earth.

For ecologists, biodiversity is also the diversity of durable interactions among species. It not only applies to species, but also to their immediate environment (biotope) and their larger ecoregion. In each ecosystem, living organisms are part of a whole, interacting with not only other organisms, but also with the air, water, and soil that surround them.

Distribution - Biodiversity is not distributed evenly on Earth. It is consistently richer in the tropics and in other localized regions such as the California Floristic Province. As one approaches polar regions one generally finds fewer species. Flora and fauna diversity depends on climate, altitude, soils and the presence of other species. In the year 2006 large numbers of the Earth's species are formally classified as rare or endangered or threatened species; moreover, most scientists estimate that there are millions more species actually endangered which have not yet been formally recognized. About 40 percent of the 40,177 species assessed using the IUCN Red List criteria, are now listed as threatened species with extinction - a total of 16,119 species.

Evolution - Biodiversity found on Earth today is the result of 4 billion years of evolution. The origin of life has not been definitely established by science, though evidence suggests that life may already have been well-established a few 100 million years after the formation of the Earth. Until approximately 600 million years ago, all life consisted of bacteria and similar single-celled organisms. The apparent biodiversity shown in the fossil record suggests that the last few million years include the period of greatest biodiversity in the Earth's history.

Estimates of the present global macroscopic species diversity vary from 2 million to 100 million species, with a best estimate of somewhere near 10 million.

Most biologists agree however that the period since the emergence of humans is part of a new mass extinction, the Holocene extinction event, caused primarily by the impact humans are having on the environment. At present, the number of species estimated to have gone extinct as a result of human action is still far smaller than are observed during the major mass extinctions of the geological past. However, it has been argued that the present rate of extinction is sufficient to create a major mass extinction in less than 100 years.

Biodiversity is the variation of life forms within a given ecosystem, biome or for the entire Earth. Biodiversity is often used as a measure of the health of biological systems. Ours it seems is definetely in trouble.

Benefits
There are a multitude of benefits of biodiversity in the sense of one diverse group aiding another such as:

Resistance to catastrophe - Monoculture, the lack of biodiversity, was a contributing factor to several agricultural disasters in history, including the Irish Potato Famine, the European wine industry collapse in the late 1800s, and the US Southern Corn Leaf Blight epidemic of 1970.

Higher biodiversity also controls the spread of certain diseases as e.g. viruses will need adapt itself with every new species.

Food and drink - Biodiversity provides food for humans. Although about 80 percent of our food supply comes from just 20 kinds of plants, humans use at least 40,000 species of plants and animals a day. Many people around the world depend on these species for their food, shelter, and clothing. There is untapped potential for increasing the range of food products suitable for human consumption, provided that the high present extinction rate can be stopped.

Medicines - A significant proportion of drugs are derived, directly or indirectly, from biological sources; in most cases these medicines can not presently be synthesized in a laboratory setting. About 40% of the pharmaceuticals used in the US are manufactured using natural compounds found in plants, animals, and microorganisms. Moreover, only a small proportion of the total diversity of plants has been thoroughly investigated for potential sources of new drugs. Many drugs are also derived from microorganisms.

Industrial materials - A wide range of industrial materials are derived directly from biological resources. These include building materials, fibers, dyes, resins, gums, adhesives, rubber and oil. There is enormous potential for further research into sustainably utilizing materials from a wider diversity of organisms.

Intellectual value - Through the field of bionics, a lot of technological advancement has been done which may not have been the case without a rich biodiversity.

Better crop-varieties - For for some foodcrops and other economic crops, wild varieties of the domesticated species can be reintroduced to form a better variety than the previous (domesticated) species. The economic impact is gigantic, for even crops as common as the potato (which was bred through only one variety, brought back from the Inca), a lot more can come from these species. Wild varieties of the potato will all suffer enormously through the effects of climate change. A report by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) describes the huge economic loss. Rice, which has been improved for thousands of years by humans, can through the same process regain some of its nutritional value that has been lost since (a project is already being carried out to do just this).

Other ecological services - Biodiversity provides many ecosystem services that are often not readily visible. It plays a part in regulating the chemistry of our atmosphere and water supply. Biodiversity is directly involved in recycling nutrients and providing fertile soils. Experiments with controlled environments have shown that humans cannot easily build ecosystems to support human needs; for example insect pollination cannot be mimicked by human-made construction, and that activity alone represents tens of billions of dollars in ecosystem services per annum to humankind.

Leisure, cultural and aesthetic value - Many people derive value from biodiversity through leisure activities such as enjoying a walk in the countryside, birdwatching or natural history programs on television.

Biodiversity has inspired musicians, painters, sculptors, writers and other artists. Many cultural groups view themselves as an integral part of the natural world and show respect for other living organisms.

***

Hindrances
There are also many impracticallities in saving all the species currently on earth:

Funds
Humans have always expanded and developed their territory throughout history. An active approach is the only way to hault the expansion but this often requires public funds. Currently the United States Environmental Protection Agency has an annual budget of $7.3 billion (2007) [7]

Withheld resources
Many times natural resources cannot be exploited due to environmental protection acts. Fine woods from South America and oil from Alaska are prime examples.

Preservation of invertebrate and plant species
Biodiverstiy is most closely known to the public as a loss of animals with a backbone when in fact there exist 20 times that number of insects 5 times as many flowering plants. While a few of these species may be highly valuable to the human race for the above reasons, the vast majority are often completely unknown to anyone but specialists. In fact it is often estimated that less than half and perhaps less than two-thirds of earth organisms have even been identified.

Numbers of species

Insects make up the vast majority of animal species.As a soft guide, however, the numbers of identified modern species as of 2004 can be broken down as follows: [8]

287,655 plants, including:
15,000 mosses,
13,025 ferns,
980 gymnosperms,
199,350 dicotyledons,
59,300 monocotyledons;
74,000-120,000 fungi[10];
10,000 lichens;
1,250,000 animals, including:
1,190,200 invertebrates:
950,000 insects,
70,000 mollusks,
40,000 crustaceans,
130,200 others;
58,808 vertebrates:
29,300 fish,
5,743 amphibians,
8,240 reptiles,
10,234 birds, (9799 extant as of 2006)
5,416 mammals.
However the total number of species for some phyla may be much higher:

5-10 million bacteria[11];
1.5 million fungi[10];

Threats
During the last century, erosion of biodiversity has been increasingly observed. Some studies show that about one eighth known plant species is threatened with extinction. Some estimates put the loss at up to 140,000 species per year (based on Species-area theory) and subject to discussion. This figure indicates unsustainable ecological practices, because only a small number of species come into being each year. Almost all scientists acknowledge[citation needed that the rate of species loss is greater now than at any time in human history, with extinctions occurring at rates hundreds of times higher than background extinction rates.

Destruction of habitats
Most of the species extinctions from 1000 AD to 2000 AD are due to human activities, in particular destruction of plant and animal habitats. Raised rates of extinction are being driven by human consumption of organic resources, especially related to tropical forest destruction. While most of the species that are becoming extinct are not food species, their biomass is converted into human food when their habitat is transformed into pasture, cropland, and orchards. It is estimated that more than 40% of the Earth's biomass is tied up in only the few species that represent humans, livestock and crops. Because an ecosystem decreases in stability as its species are made extinct, these studies warn that the global ecosystem is destined for collapse if it is further reduced in complexity. Factors contributing to loss of biodiversity are: overpopulation, deforestation, pollution (air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination) and global warming or climate change, driven by human activity. These factors, while all stemming from overpopulation, produce a cumulative impact upon biodiversity.

Some characterize loss of biodiversity not as ecosystem degradation but by conversion to trivial standardized ecosystems (e.g., monoculture following deforestation). In some countries lack of property rights or access regulation to biotic resources necessarily leads to biodiversity loss (degradation costs having to be supported by the community).

A September 14, 2007 study conducted by the National Science Foundation found that biodiversity and genetic diversity are dependent upon each other--that diversity within a species is necessary to maintain diversity among species, and vice versa. According to the lead researcher in the study, Dr. Richard Lankauof, "If any one type is removed from the system, the cycle can break down, and the community becomes dominated by a single species."

Exotic species
The rich diversity of unique species across many parts of the world exist only because they are separated by barriers, particularly large rivers, seas, oceans, mountains and deserts from other species of other land masses, particularly the highly fecund, ultra-competitive, generalist "super-species". These are barriers that could never be crossed by natural processes, except for many millions of years in the future through continental drift. However humans have invented ships and airplanes, and now have the power to bring into contact species that never have met in their evolutionary history, and on a time scale of days, unlike the centuries that historically have accompanied major animal migrations.

The widespread introduction of exotic species by humans is a potent threat to biodiversity. When exotic species are introduced to ecosystems and establish self-sustaining populations, the endemic species in that ecosystem, that have not evolved to cope with the exotic species, may not survive. The exotic organisms may be either predators, parasites, or simply aggressive species that deprive indigenous species of nutrients, water and light. These exotic or invasive species often have features, due to their evolutionary background and new environment, that make them highly competitive; able to become well-established and spread quickly, reducing the effective habitat of endemic species.

As a consequence of the above, if humans continue to combine species from different ecoregions, there is the potential that the world's ecosystems will end up dominated by relatively a few, aggressive, cosmopolitan "super-species".

Other 'Decline in amphibian populations'
Declines in amphibian populations have been observed since 1980s. Because of the sensitivity of these organisms, they are regarded by many scientists as a marker for the overall health of an ecosystem. Their decline has led to concern about the general current state of biodiversity.

Genetic pollution
Purebred naturally evolved region specific wild species can be threatened with extinction in a big way through the process of Genetic Pollution i.e. uncontrolled hybridization, introgression and Genetic swamping which leads to homogenization or replacement of local genotypes as a result of either a numerical and/or fitness advantage of introduced plant or animal. Nonnative species can bring about a form of extinction of native plants and animals by hybridization and introgression either through purposeful introduction by humans or through habitat modification, bringing previously isolated species into contact. These phenomena can be especially detrimental for rare species coming into contact with more abundant ones where the abundant ones can interbreed with them swamping the entire rarer gene pool creating hybrids thus driving the entire original purebred native stock to complete extinction. Attention has to be focused on the extent of this under appreciated problem that is not always apparent from morphological (outward appearance) observations alone. Some degree of gene flow may be a normal, evolutionarily constructive process, and all constellations of genes and genotypes cannot be preserved however, hybridization with or without introgression may, nevertheless, threaten a rare species' existence.

Hybridization and genetics
In agriculture and animal husbandry, green revolution popularized the use of conventional hybridization to increase yield many folds by creating "high-yielding varieties". Often the handful of breeds of plants and animals hybridized originated in developed countries and were further hybridized with local varieties, in the rest of the developing world, to create high yield strains resistant to local climate and diseases. Local governments and industry since have been pushing hybridization with such zeal that several of the wild and indigenous breeds evolved locally over thousands of years having high resistance to local extremes in climate and immunity to diseases etc. have already become extinct or are in grave danger of becoming so in the near future. Due to complete disuse because of un-profitability and uncontrolled intentional, compounded with unintentional cross-pollination and crossbreeding (genetic pollution) formerly huge gene pools of various wild and indigenous breeds have collapsed causing widespread genetic erosion and genetic pollution resulting in great loss in genetic diversity and biodiversity as a whole.

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using the genetic engineering techniques generally known as recombinant DNA technology. Genetically Modified (GM) crops today have become a common source for genetic pollution, not only of wild varieties but also of other domesticated varieties derived from relatively natural hybridization.

It is being said that genetic erosion coupled with genetic pollution is destroying that needed unique genetic base thereby creating an unforeseen hidden crisis which will result in a severe threat to our food security for the future when diverse genetic material will cease to exist to be able to further improve or hybridize weakening food crops and livestock against more resistant diseases and climatic changes.

Management
The conservation of biological diversity has become a global concern. Although not everybody agrees on extent and significance of current extinction, most consider biodiversity essential. There are basically two main types of conservation options, in-situ conservation and ex-situ conservation. In-situ is usually seen as the ideal conservation strategy. However, its implementation is sometimes infeasible. For example, destruction of rare or endangered species' habitats sometimes requires ex-situ conservation efforts. Furthermore, ex-situ conservation can provide a backup solution to in-situ conservation projects. Some believe both types of conservation are required to ensure proper preservation. An example of an in-situ conservation effort is the setting-up of protection areas. Examples of ex-situ conservation efforts, by contrast, would be planting germplasts in seedbanks, or growing the Wollemi Pine in nurseries. Such efforts allow the preservation of large populations of plants with minimal genetic erosion.

At national levels a Biodiversity Action Plan is sometimes prepared to state the protocols necessary to protect an individual species. Usually this plan also details extant data on the species and its habitat. In the USA such a plan is called a Recovery Plan.

The threat to biological diversity was among the hot topics discussed at the UN World Summit for Sustainable Development, in hope of seeing the foundation of a Global Conservation Trust to help maintain plant collections.

Judicial status
Biodiversity is beginning to be evaluated and its evolution analysed (through observations, inventories, conservation...) as well as being taken into account in political and judicial decisions .

The relationship between law and ecosystems is very ancient and has consequences for biodiversity. It is related to property rights, both private and public. It can define protection for threatened ecosystems, but also some rights and duties (for example, fishing rights, hunting rights).
Law regarding species is a more recent issue. It defines species that must be protected because they may be threatened by extinction. Some people question application of these laws[citation needed]. The U.S. Endangered Species Act is an example of an attempt to address the "law and species" issue.

Laws regarding gene pools are only about a century old. While the genetic approach is not new (domestication, plant traditional selection methods), progress made in the genetic field in the past 20 years have led to a tightening of laws in this field. With the new technologies of genetic analysis and genetic engineering, people are going through gene patenting, processes patenting, and a totally new concept of genetic resources[citation needed]. A very hot debate today seeks to define whether the resource is the gene, the organism itself, or its DNA. The 1972 UNESCO convention established that biological resources, such as plants, were the common heritage of mankind. These rules probably inspired the creation of great public banks of genetic resources, located outside the source-countries.

New global agreements (e.g.Convention on Biological Diversity), now give sovereign national rights over biological resources (not property). The idea of static conservation of biodiversity is disappearing and being replaced by the idea of dynamic conservation, through the notion of resource and innovation.

The new agreements commit countries to conserve biodiversity, develop resources for sustainability and share the benefits resulting from their use. Under new rules, it is expected that bioprospecting or collection of natural products has to be allowed by the biodiversity-rich country, in exchange for a share of the benefits.

Sovereignty principles can rely upon what is better known as Access and Benefit Sharing Agreements (ABAs). The Convention on Biodiversity spirit implies a prior informed consent between the source country and the collector, to establish which resource will be used and for what, and to settle on a fair agreement on benefit sharing. Bioprospecting can become a type of biopiracy when those principles are not respected.

Uniform approval for use of biodiversity as a legal standard has not been achieved, however. At least one legal commentator has argued that biodiversity should not be used as a legal standard, arguing that the multiple layers of scientific uncertainty inherent in the concept of biodiversity will cause administrative waste and increase litigation without promoting preservation goals. See Fred Bosselman, A Dozen Biodiversity Puzzles, 12 N.Y.U. Environmental Law Journal 364 (2004)

Criticisms

Some of the biodiversity of a coral reef.

Food
Many believe the notion that there is 'vast untapped potential' for reducing humankind's dependence on a relatively small number of domesticated plant and animal species should be challenged. Jared Diamond, based on studies of the domestication of plants and animals, argued that the rarity of species suitable for domestication and their occurrence in just a few parts of the world, determined the limited number of locations in which major civilizations could arise. In recent times there have been many studies of minor food sources, but none of these sources have subsequently become major food crops.

Founder effect
The field of biodiversity research (inevitably) suffers from natural human egocentric "myopic" cognitive biases. It has often been criticized for being overly defined by the personal interests of the founders (i.e. terrestrial mammals) giving a narrow focus, rather than extending to other areas where it could be useful. This is termed the founder effect by Norse and Irish, (1996). (This was a play on words: the founder effect in ecology typically refers to the genetic outcome when a small population establishes an isolated breeding group). France and Rigg reviewed the biodiversity literature in 1998 and found that there was a significant lack of papers studying marine ecosystems, leading them to dub marine biodiversity research the sleeping hydra. More work has been carried out for accessible, diverse coastal systems such as coral reefs than for inaccessible, species-poor deep sea areas.

It has been easier to mobilise public opinion and national legislation for the terrestrial realm, which has higher visibility and falls within countries' territorial boundaries. Marine conservation involves having to pioneer new and international mechanisms of protection as well as solving methodological problems in marine biology relating to marine ecosystem classification and data-gathering on some of the earth's most difficult species to access and monitor.

Size bias
Biodiversity researcher Sean Nee points out that the vast majority of Earth's biodiversity is microbial, and that contemporary biodiversity physics is "firmly fixated on the visible world" (Nee uses "visible" as a synonym for macroscopic). For example, microbial life is very much more metabolically and environmentally diverse than multicellular life (see extremophile). Nee has stated: "On the tree of life, based on analyses of small-subunit ribosomal RNA, visible life consists of barely noticeable twigs.

The size bias is not restricted to consideration of microbes. Entomologist Nigel Stork states that "to a first approximation, all multicellular species on Earth are insects".

A reply to this, however, is that biodiversity conservation has never focused exclusively on visible (in this sense) species. From the very beginning, the classification and conservation of natural communities or ecosystem types has been a central part of the effort. The thought behind this has been that since invisible (in this sense) diversity is, due to lack of taxonomy, impossible to treat in the same manner as visible diversity, the best that can be done is to preserve a diversity of ecosystem types, thereby preserving as well as possible the diversity of invisible organisms.

 

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