The word Biodiversity has cropped up on my radar a few times in my life – but as a complete dummy when it comes to science, and with very little knowledge of plants (outside of food…); I must admit I’ve never given it much thought. But as today marks The United Nations International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) – aiming to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues – maybe it’s time I do some homework!
But we all know by now that I’m far too lazy to teach myself biology and botany in my spare time…so instead I’ve enlisted the help from a very handy friend of mine; Eden project Plant Records Scientist, Chris Bisson.
Who better to give me the low down on biodiversity than a horticultural and plant collection data geek? (Who also happened to be a general plant taxonomist, unashamed plant-chauvinist, surfer and illustrator…to name a few of his other talents!)
1. So, Chris, what exactly is Biodiversity?
Biodiversity is the combination of 3 things:
- The Genetic variability within a species
- The range and diversity of habitats within a particular area
- The amount of different species within an area.
This includes EVERY living thing, from microbes up.
2. Why is it so important?
These three factors provide ecosystem resilience, enable them to function efficiently and more sustainably; and as animals ourselves we really need them! Biodiversity can be valued to an extent; without it there would be no habitat to live, no food to eat and certainly life as we know it would cease to exist!!
3. Give me some examples of how it works
Well, if a nasty disease or natural disaster hits, some species – or individual species – could get wiped out. However if there is a high biodiversity, it is likely that some species will adapt through breeding or behaviour; thus reducing the effect of problem on the whole ecosystem.
As this year theme for International Day for Biological Diversity, is “Islands”, I’ll use these as an example. Islands by their very nature are quite secluded places and are less likely to have new or transient biota jumping through. This leads to the evolution of some really interesting and endemic species, but also creates habitats that can be extremely vulnerable to outside influences as they do not have the means to adapt as quickly to drastic changes.
4. What are the biggest threats to global biodiversity right now?
A heap of stuff! Mostly caused by us. Desertification, climate change, poverty and food insecurity can all be linked to factors such as unsustainable agriculture and population pressures. Threats at a local level can be extremely significant as well; island habitats globally are extremely vulnerable to invasive species which can oust natives in pretty much every aspect of their life cycle.
5. But the theme is islands, so isn’t biodiversity only important on tropical islands outside the UK?
Biodiversity is important everywhere, let’s not forget that the Mediterranean basin is a biodiversity hotspot and many of the biodiversity that exists there is under threat. Islands closer to the poles are more likely to suffer from the effects of climate change. To an extent plant species may come off worse as they are unable to migrate as quickly as other organisms and in some cases it may be too late.
6. What can we practically do to help protect it where we live?
We can do all sorts, but the first step is to be aware that we can influence the way global and local biodiversity goes. Sometimes just reading the ingredients, investigating sources and industrial processes, and making the most sensible choices on the products we use can make a difference. Keeping it local is a great way to ensure that you have the best knowledge of where our products come from and helping to keep money in the local community as well as reducing the miles something has to travel. Learn impartially about the processes and factors that can influence biodiversity and get involved online and in local groups.