What is Biodiversity Loss?
Biodiversity loss is the reduction or disappearance of the variety of the living beings that inhabit the planet. It is driven by five main factors , those of which include: habitat loss, invasive species, overexploitation of the natural environment, pollution, and climate change.
Habitat loss is done through changes in the environment, often drastic and done by humans. Without their homes which serve as shelter and source for food, there is little chance animals and plants in the affected area will survive. An example of this is deforestation, the removal of a forest or a large stand of trees on land that is then converted to non-forest use. The process of deforestation drives all the species in that area out, often causing panic and leaving them vulnerable. Removal of trees and other plants also affects the quality, pH, and stability of the soil.
Overexploitation of the Natural Environment
Overexploitation, linked to habitat loss, is when we take an overabundant amount of natural resources. This overconsumption of natural resources overrides nature’s ability to regenerate, causing the planet’s flora and fauna to suffer. Examples of this are overhunting and overfishing, which depletes the food source of some species while driving others to extinction.
Invasive species are released into new areas both intentionally and accidentally. These invasive species act as predators, they compete for food, hybridize with native species, alter habitats, introduce parasites and diseases, etc. Their interactions are extremely harmful and ruin the natural balance of ecosystems, reducing biodiversity, and they are even capable of causing extinctions of native plants and animals.
Pollution is the addition of unneeded or harmful substances to an ecosystem. This comes in many forms such as air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, light pollution, etc.
Air pollution is any substance suspended in the air that can have adverse effects on the health of humans and other species in our ecosystem. This could be from the burning of fossil fuels, industrial emissions, car exhaust, etc. These pollutants affect biodiversity directly, by impacting health due to inhalation, or they can affect biodiversity by altering environmental conditions.
Water pollution is the contamination of water bodies, usually as a result of human activities, which renders negative impacts to the ecosystem. There are many specific substances that pollute the earth’s waters, but two of the most commonly known are plastic and oil pollution. Substances in the air, previously discussed under air pollution, may also pollute the earth’s waters and affect marine life. Increased carbon dioxide causes acidification of the ocean, affecting creatures and plants that are sensitive to pH imbalances.
Climate change, linked to global warming and habitat loss, is the long-term alteration of temperature and typical weather patterns in a place. These changes alter habitats and seasonal patterns such as migration, impacting plant and animal life. Rising sea levels from ice melting in the arctic are prefaced to have a major impact and may possibly even destroy ecosystems on coastlines. Along with rising sea levels, climate change will also cause changes to ocean temperatures and perhaps even currents. Such changes would have a great impact on zooplankton, an essential part of the food chain in the ocean and a key component to biodiversity in our oceans.
Why does biodiversity matter?
Biodiversity is the life support our ecosystems depend on, and with it they are able to supply oxygen, clean air and water, pollination of plants, pest control, wastewater treatment and many other services provided by functional ecosystems.
Species depend on other species to survive and thrive, disruptions in the food chain from a loss in biodiversity will not only affect the flora in fauna closely related to it but the ecosystem as a whole, which includes us humans. For example, losing a diverse insect species such as bees will decrease plant pollination, which would decrease the success rate and quality of our crops and decrease our ability to produce medicine and other health-related products. Without them, humanity would struggle to feed and support our ever-growing population.
Biodiversity also protects against natural disasters, such as grasses that have evolved specifically to resist the spread of wildfires. Trees also help reduce erosion in flood or storm events by making the soil stable and also help soil retain water in drier areas by providing shade.
Apart from protection and providing support to life on earth, biodiversity allows us to have access to a diverse range of biological resources such as wood, one of the most common building blocks used in society to build a variation of things from buildings to commercial products.
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Nathalie Leung is an outstanding freshman at the prestigious Harvard Westlake High School living in Los Angeles, California. Her passion in research, learning, and sharing knowledge has led her to pursuing journalism and writing with The Teen Pop Magazine.