Wildlife & Biodiversity

World Biodiversity Day: Ever more important amid COVID-19 pandemic

Various levels and forms of biodiversity such as ecosystems, species, genes across all taxonomic ranges are threatened, and facing an alarming rate of extinction

By KS Murali
Published: Saturday 22 May 2021

May 22 has been celebrated as ‘World Biodiversity Day’, or ‘International day of Biological Diversity’ since 2001, primarily to create awareness among people and enhance efforts towards conserving biological diversity in land and waterscapes across the world. Each year the biological diversity day observes a theme that aids in the conservation efforts. This year the theme: ‘our solutions are in nature’.

Biodiversity, or biological diversity, means the variety of living beings on Earth. The number of species on our planet are variously estimated between 8 million and 15 million, including plants, animals, fungi, bacteria and other forms of life. Only around 2 million, however, are identified and recorded by scientists.

The biodiversity we witness today formed through billions of years of evolution. The species across the globe and within an ecosystem are interlinked and any attempt to change the status of one will be harming the balance. This balance is required to functioning of the global ecosystems smoothly.

Forests are considered biodiversity refuges of terrestrial ecosystems that supports most of the biodiversity today. Unfortunately, across the globe we continue to clear the natural habitats including primary forests jeopardising so many species of animals and plants breaking the natural balance of species and complex food web lowering the earth’s regenerative capacity. We continue to draw natural resources nearly 1.75 times higher than the capacity for its regeneration by the planet’s ecosystems, and if this trend continues we would require four more Earths to meet our requirements for natural resources.

Various levels and forms of biodiversity such as ecosystems, species, genes across all taxonomic ranges are threatened, and facing an alarming rate of extinction. An estimated one million species are under threat of extinction, according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. It is estimated that over 80 per cent of the biodiversity decline is caused by habitat destruction and degradation.

A report by the World Wildlife Fund indicates 12,505 plant; 1,204 mammal; 1,469 birds; 1,215 reptile; 2,100 amphibian; 2,386 fish and 1,414 insect species are considered threatened.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, one in every four species of all major taxa are threatened. Nearly 75 per cent of the crop-genetic diversity and animal breeds are lost and the remaining 90 per cent of the genetic diversity is under threat. Intact natural forest ecosystems and genetically diverse agricultural farms and landscapes are critically vital for providing services like supply of freshwater, protection against storms, floods and other hazards as well as for resilience to the production landscapes.

India is one of the megadiverse countries in the world. With only about 2.4 percent of the land area in the world but supports nearly 8 percent of the species diversity with over 45,000 species plants and about 91,000 animals. India harbours 2 of the megadiverse hot spots in the world namely Western Ghats and Eastern Himalayas.

Much of our needs — including the air we breathe and water we drink, medicines we consume etc — are met from the vibrant ecosystems around us, which again depend on the rich diversity they behold despite all our technological advancement we have achieved. Much of the agricultural crops are derived from the diversity held in the forests and other ecosystems surrounding us.

In fact these wild form of diversity saves us from pest and disease resistance. Similarly our health is a lot dependent on the healthy ecosystems. The current pandemic may have primarily arisen from the loss of habitat to animals. The lack of appropriate host for the pathogen or lack of genetic diversity among the animal this virus existed may have led to mutations in the pathogen to spread to humans. It is believed that the other pandemics such as ebola may have caused due to habitat destruction.

Since its inception MS Swaminathan Research Foundation has been working towards the holistic agriculture supporting the overall crop diversity. The foundation is pioneering in multiple-crop cultivation in the same piece of land; enhancing the soil microbes in the cultivated land; promoting agroforestry to enhance overall productivity of land; promoting local land races; and promoting joint management of forests particularly the mangroves.

The foundation pioneered in restoring over 1500 hectares mangrove forests, which are one of the highly productive ecosystems in the world. Professor Swaminathan termed such mechanisms to enhance biodiversity and continual biomass production as evergreen revolution.

The current pandemic is a wakeup call for all of us to build a sustainable economy collaboratively to conserve nature and biodiversity to gain the lost glory. It was common to hear during the couple of months of lockdown last year ecosystems seem to have regenerated. Based on this experience, we should be part of the solution to build the nature through afforestation, conserving the current forests and other landscapes that harbour biodiversity.

Implementation of existing policies and laws on biological diversity, conservation of ecosystems (national parks and sanctuaries) and adopt responsible consumerism. It is important to embark on the principles of conservation at the individual level including health, hygiene and lifestyles. 

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