Bio-diversity Demystified – February/March 2021

View from The Wildlife Patch

Bio-diversity is a term which describes every living organism within a single ecosystem or habitat, including numbers and diversity of species and all environmental aspects such as temperature, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels and climate. Bio-diversity can be measured globally or in smaller settings, such as ponds. If that sounds complicated it’s because it is complicated. Symbiosis is the
working together of two organisms to the mutual benefit of both.

Bio-diversity describes all life on Earth working together in an interdependent fragile network. To unpack the term Bio-diversity further – The Sun shines on our Earth’s surface drenching it with energy in the form of heat and light. Green plants have evolved to convert this energy into sugars which are really “packaged energy” that plants use to sustain, maintain and increase their own species.

Over many millions of years life on Earth has developed into a complex web of life consisting of Animals, Plants, Bacteria, Fungi etc. All this life is interlinked on many levels to utilise the energy thus captured by plants to sustain, maintain and multiply their own species. This system is very complicated and involves the intake and release of energy whilst in the process, releasing chemicals. These are in turn taken up by plants which utilise them to maintain their own species in a never ending cycle. Each species has a place in this system that can be occupied by no other species. If any one species – however insignificant – is taken away, the whole system suffers or may even crash altogether.

Along with every other species, Mankind has a place in this complex web. We are ultimately dependent on this system to maintain our own species. Without biodiversity, the health of the planet and ultimate survival of all species including Mankind is at stake.

Right now the diversity of life on this planet is in danger as never before in many thousands of years. The greatest threat to the loss of bio-diversity is human activity. As our population grows, together with our need for food, water and home comforts, it takes over natural ecosystems and replaces them with unnatural ones. Even in these, other organisms can adapt and successfully reproduce, but the levels of biodiversity as compared to the replaced environment are significantly lower.

The two greatest threats to the bio-diversity of our planet are Climate Change driven by Global warming and Pollution.

Global Warming The burning of Fossil Fuels – Gas, petrol and diesel – releases Carbon Dioxide into our atmosphere which forms a layer around The Earth. This “layer” traps in the Sun’s rays causing the earth’s atmosphere to heat up. The effects of this Global Warming are well known and established.

Pollution Exists in many ways at many levels, Pollution from plastic is well known as is pollution from fumes released by transport and industry. We also have noise pollution which affects our own well-being as well as affecting wildlife in ways as yet poorly understood. There is also pollution from chemicals used in agriculture and other industries. In fact the list of pollutants and their effects is much too long for this short article.

The threat from invasive species: Most species have evolved to live in a very narrow ecological niche. In this niche there will be factors that limit their ability to pose a threat to other species’ existence. Some species, when moved from their native location, finding this natural limitation removed, go on to pose major threats to native species in their new environment. There are many examples of this. The introduction of the Grey Squirrel in the 19th century is one of the most well known. Since their introduction form North America, Grey Squirrels have all but wiped out our native Red Squirrels in most of the UK. There are too many other examples of this to name here.

Threat from over exploitation: Over Fishing is an example often quoted. Many would class our trend to turn farmland over to intensive arable farming as over exploitation. We have got so good at growing crops that in almost any local cornfield there will be more Bio-diversity in one metre of the hedge border than in the whole of the 50 or so hectares field that the hedge surrounds.

Are we seeing a loss to the bio-diversity in our area? Globally the number of insects has declined by around 80% since the year 2020. This loss is ever present in our area, and in our Parish. When did you last hear a Cuckoo? How many Swallows did you see this year? Both are insectivores. There are very many more examples of loss of Bio-diversity in this parish that I could quote. We all have a part to play in combating the current decline in this loss. Individually or corporately we need to consider our own practises.

In all that we do, we could ask if we are doing our best to reverse the loss of biodiversity locally or on a wider scale.

In the garden: Do I need to use insecticide? Could I plant flowers that attract insects? Could I cut my lawn less or leave a patch unmown to allow wild flowers to grow there? Are those ants doing any harm? Is there an alternative to using slug pellets, weed killer etc. Are there eco friendly alternatives?

Think about lighting, heating. These are carbon dioxide polluters. Could we be more efficient in their use.

This article is designed to raise awareness of and demystify the term bio-diversity as well as outline some current threats to this bio-diversity. It does not discuss how to measure bio-diversity or provide answers to the question of how to tackle the loss habitat and bio-diversity on a local or wider level.

Dave Musson

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