Impact of Biodiversity Loss

Environmental critics often argue that protecting biodiversity is a secondary issue that should not be  a central concern in light of  more pressing global problems such as poverty and and widespread hunger in developing countries. The reality is, however, that protecting and maintaining the biodiversity of the earth’s varied ecosystems and habitats is critical to human health and livlihood across the globe.

 

 

dsfsdfPhoto credit (above): www.sdsurfeco.com/pages/rainforest.htm

Effects on Human  and Environmental Well-being

Recessive Trait – a trait that requires two copies of the gene to be present in order to appear in the phenotype

Fitness – an individual’s ability to reproduce, or the proportion of an individual’s genes in the next generation

Allele – an alternative form of a gene located in a specific position on a specific chromosome

 

Loss of Genetic Diversity

Even if species do not directly go extinct, habitat loss can reduce population size, reducing the genetic diversity of a group of interbreeding individuals and forming what is called a “population bottleneck.”  Bottleneck populations have a higher incidence of homozygosity – or having two identical alleles at a single locus.  Heavily homozygous populations express more deleterious recessive genes and alleles, leading to a reduction in the overall fitness of the population, and sometimes, extinction.

 

Image credit (above): http://fm2.fieldmuseum.org/plantguides/guideimages.asp?ID=259

Loss of Medicinal Plants

Both traditional and conventional medicine relies directly on the availability of medicinal plant species, however between 15,000 and 50,000 of the known medicinal species are currently threatened with extinction (Edwards 2009).

The distribution and availability of plant and animal species also impacts ecosystem nutrient cycling, natural water purification processes, and flood control. As we lose these natural ecosystem services, we are forced to replace them with artificial solutions, further exacerbating the problems associated with habitat destruction and species loss.

Threats to Economic Industry

Biodiversity loss also threatens human economic activity by destroying the resources millions of people rely upon for their own lives and livelihoods.  For example, the creation  and subsequent expansion of the Suez Canal has resulted in the transport and invasion of marine species from the Red Sea to the northern waters of the Mediterranean (Galil 2006). Facilitated by the warming waters, these invasive species have proliferated in the Mediterranean, and fundamentally changed the fishing industry in Southern European costal communities (Galil 2006). Introduced jellyfish have flourished at the expense of marketable fish, forcing many fishermen to seek other means of income (Galil 2006).

Image credit (above): http://echeng.com/journal/images/misc/echeng-jellyfish-lake-palau.jpg

Costs of Global Biodiversity Loss

While the relative merits of assigning monetary values to the worth of protecting biodiversity remain controversial, the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity was a European group formed to bring awareness to both the costs and benefits of preserving biodiversity – as well as the inherent costs associated with its loss.

The EEB estimates that the about 50 billion euros of biodiversity-providing ecosystems are lost each year (TEEB 2009).

The group also estimates that biodiversity loss will have incurred a total cost of 14 TRILLION Euros by 2050 (TEEB 2009).

Biodiversity loss also affects different economic sectors and populations differently.  Developing areas and peoples rely on ecosystem services and resources for a much greater proportion of their economic activity than developed countries, and therefore sustain the impacts and costs to a much higher degree.

 

 

Image credit (above): www.teebweb.org

Sources:

Edwards, R. 2009. Medicinal plants on verge of extinction. New Scientist. 2690.

Galil, B.S. 2006. The marine caravan - the Suez Canal and the Erythrean Invasion. In: Gollasch, S., B.S. Galil, and A.N. Cohen (Eds.), Bridging Divides: Maritime Canals as Invasion Corridors. Monographiae Biologicae 83. Springer, 207-300.

TEEB - The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for National and International Policy Makers - Summary: Responding to the Value of Nature 2009. 2009. Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity 47 pages.

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