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Issue description & context
Biodiversity is defined as “the variety of life found in a place on Earth or, often, the total variety of life on Earth.” In other words, biodiversity is literally all life on this planet, from crops and trees to insects, bacteria, and animals. Biodiversity is a foundation of life and a backbone of functioning ecosystems. In contrast with natural biodiversity loss, which follows natural cycles and results in temporary disturbance, the results of human-driven biodiversity loss tend to be more severe and long-lasting. The current rates of biodiversity loss are estimated to be at least 100 times faster than the background rate. Other experts posit that species extinction rates are hundreds or thousands of times faster than the background rates.
As part of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 adopted in 2010 under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), a set of biodiversity safeguarding goals and targets was agreed upon. More than 190 countries participated in the effort. More than a decade later, CBD reported that none of the 20 targets were met. According to the most recent Global Biodiversity Outlook issued in 2020 “wild animal populations have fallen by more than two-thirds since 1970 and nearly one third since 2010”. While considerable losses have been registered on all five continents, Latin America and the Caribbean has seen, according to the Living Planet Index, a stunning decline of 94% since 1970. If the global population of humans experienced a decline of 94% there would be less than 475 million people on the planet in 2022. This is not a new trend. As WWF 2020 report states, “since the industrial revolution, human activities have increasingly destroyed and degraded forests, grasslands, wetlands and other important ecosystems, threatening human well-being. Seventy-five per cent of the Earth’s ice-free land surface has already been significantly altered, most of the oceans are polluted, and more than 85% of the area of wetlands has been lost.”
According to a global assessment report published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), “an average of around 25 per cent of species in assessed animal and plant groups are threatened, suggesting that around 1 million species already face extinction…” As Smithsonian Magazine reports, “for years, scientists have been sounding the alarm about biodiversity’s dramatic decline in what some have dubbed the world’s sixth mass extinction event.” While many diverse causes are often pointed out by the academia as culprits behind the biodiversity loss, they are mere symptoms of what John McMurtry calls a life-blind economic system. This paradigm, McMurtry writes, “is decoupled from life means and substance in principle…” He continues, “if [life] is not priced for exchange and purchase, it has no value in this system.”
As IPBES states, nature underpins quality of life by providing basic life support for humanity (regulating), as well as material goods (material) and spiritual inspiration (non-material). Human reliance on biodiversity for medical and pharmacological cures and antidotes is well-known. However, the importance of a healthy planetary biosphere goes beyond the effects on humanity. Planetary biosphere (plants, animals and other forms of life) not only provides necessary environmental conditions for survival, it constitutes an integral part of the Earth system by affecting its atmosphere, water cycle, ocean chemistry, nutrient cycling, pest control, and more. Summarily, in an interdependent, complex system of hierarchical structures (i.e. wholes are made up of smaller subsystems) that is biodiversity, even smallest disruptions may result in far-reaching consequences.
Some of the known impacts
Insects form a basis of many major food webs, forming the primary food source for birds, amphibians, fish, and reptiles. According to a recent paper in the journal Biological Conservation, the rate of decline is at least 2.5% per year with some 40% of all insect populations in decline. The researchers estimate that a quarter of all insects could die out within a decade. In 2017, a decline of more than 75% in total biomass of flying insects was reported in Germany. Another research study revealed a decimating decline in the population of insects in Puerto Rico which led to a collapse of Puerto Rico’s Luquillo rainforest food web.
Species population collapse
According to this paper published in the journal Current Biology, “insects make up the bulk of known species, and are intimately involved in all terrestrial and freshwater food webs. Without insects, a multitude of birds, bats, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals and fish would disappear.” Previously mentioned Global Biodiversity Outlook published in 2020, reports chilling rates of extinction. In comparison with the 1970 level, vertebrae species have dropped to one third, while freshwater species dropped to less than one fifth.
Pollination & food security
Most of the food we consume depends on biotic pollination. In fact, 87% of all plant species and approximately 75% of crop types grown by humans require pollination by insects. Widespread losses of pollinating insect have been reported over the last several years in various parts of the world, such as in Britain, Denmark, Netherlands, and the U.S.
As one of the aforementioned papers states, “in addition to pollination, insects are important biocontrol agents often controlling other insect pests; they are intimately involved in the break-down of organic matter such as leaves, timber, animal faeces and carcasses to recycle the nutrients therein and help to aerate the soil, disperse seeds, and provide products such as silk and honey.”
Existing evidence (additional existing sources)
Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2020) Global Biodiversity Outlook 5. Montreal
IPBES (2019): Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
WWF (2020) Living Planet Report 2020 -Bending the curve of biodiversity loss
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