Biodiversity also known as biological diversity is the existence of a wide variety of species (species diversity) or other taxa of plants, animals, and micro organisms in a natural community or habitat, or of communities within a particular environment (ecological diversity) or of a genetic variation within a specie (genetic diversity). (Oxford dictionary of biology). The root of concern for conserving biodiversity are increased loss of species, increased rates of deforestation and soil erosion, shifting of global climate due to human activities and the reason for conservation of biodiversity will be discussed in details with respect to its aesthetic value, medicinal importance and its ecological value. The concept of biodiversity is important in building awareness, knowledge, information, ethics, and other complex mixture of agriculture, protected areas, etc. Figure 1 shows how these fit into the society together to achieve a common objective which is the conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use of biological resources, and equitable sharing of benefits.
Loss of biodiversity
The causes of the recent loss of biodiversity are degradation, destruction and conversion of ecosystems which results in the loss of species. Pollution, over exploitation, habitat disturbances and the discovery of exotic species has increased the loss of species in the ecosystem. Also, some pressures from humans has led to the depletion of genetic variability which in turn has resulted in the vulnerability of species, inbreeding problems and the inability to adapt to environmental changes. Habitats of the rainforest are known to have a diversity of rich species and more than half of the total species on earth are found here. This is threatened by the continuous destruction of habitats which was brought about by cutting down of forests for humans needs. For instance, trees are used in making timber and fuel while woods are used for agricultural purposes. Forests are important for trapping rainwater but due to deforestation, areas like India and Bangladesh experience flooding of plains, erosion and desert formation.
The Amazon forest of South America is rich in fauna and flora and the removal of these affects air and water quality, microclimate, recycling of inorganic and organic substances, loss of plant species that have potential benefits. Also, in the tropical moist lowland forest, human exploitation has become predominant, leading to poor nutrients in the soil and high level of acidity. If these issues are not addressed appropriately and with urgency, most of the forests will be lost or reduced by the next century. (National research council 1992). The burning of trees releases carbon dioxide thereby contributing to greenhouse effect. “The earth’s biota is experiencing its greatest loss of specie since the end of the cretaceous era 65 million years ago. Also, it is the first mass extinction event that has been caused by a single species one that we now hope will act, if for no other reason than its own self interest, to stem the tide.” (NSB, 1989) as cited by (National research council 1992).
Reason for biodiversity
Biodiversity in natural habitats represents different types of species and genetic material which are of important use to humans. For instance wild plants continue to be used as a source of new drugs like aspirins, penicillin, quinine and taxol. Taxol which is derived from the bark of pacific yew (Taxus brevifoia) is recently of interest as it can be used as an anti-cancer agent. In 1970s, the rosy periwinkle of Africa was discovered to contain alkaloids that inhibit cancer cell growth which treats Hodgkin’s lymphoma and childhood leukaemia. (Reece, B.J et al 2011). The loss of these also leads to the loss of other possible medicinal benefits. Legumes are very important in economic development and they also have potential genetic raw material that can be used for agricultural biotechnology. For instance, some legumes form nodules on their roots which harbours Rhizobium used for conversion of Nitrogen from the atmosphere into a form used for plant growth. Psophocarpus tetragonolobus a native of Papua New Guinea has spread through the tropics over 15 years and the “wonder tree”(Leucaenea leucocephala) a native of central America are used as a solution to problems of insufficient firewood and soil erosion. (NRC, 1975, 1979) as cited by (National research council 1992).
Some of these legumes are threatened by extinction due to inadequate investigation and the increase in the loss of genetic diversity in crops and their varieties. Biodiversity in its totality is responsible for a lot of public services examples are the major global cycles of energy (fixing of solar energy through photosynthesis), water and elements such as nitrogen, carbon and phosphorous. They also include processes like hydrological cycle in Amazon basin, where a significant portion of Amazon rainfall is generated internally. This can be seen in the Panama Canal, which requires 52 gallons of fresh water for each ship that transits the canal. (Eblen, R.A and Eblen, W.H 1994) Ecologically, Biodiversity has brought about the discovery and evolvement of individual species and ecosystem over millions of years. These need to be preserved in order to keep the life support system. Economically, forest fires, floods and hurricanes caused by human activities, have a huge economic consequence.
The cost of cleaning them is very high and the after effect is on humans is very bad. Desertification and soil erosion reduces crop production leading to famine in some developing countries. The continuous use of hardwood timber will lead to the fall of the industry leading to economic loss. These losses lead to extinction of species with potentially great economic importance. Biodiversity has a lot of aesthetic value as humans find almost all aspects of life beautiful and interesting. This is why some people enjoy watching birds or going to the country side. The study of biodiversity has brought about important concepts like vaccination and antibiotics- these are the building blocks in recent medicine. The discovery of thermal vents in the ocean bottom which was brought about by biodiversity has made scientists realize life existence at temperatures above boiling point of water.
The conservation protection and enhancement of biodiversity is a big challenge for nations, organizations, government agencies and we as individuals. This is because the continuous need to meet the needs of people is unlimited. If our biodiversity is not conserved, then our future generations will be in a biologically impoverished world where resources are insufficient. It can be said that Biodiversity supports life on earth as we depend on the air, water, food, wetlands used to filter pollutants from trees and so on. To conserve biodiversity, the need to restore, conserve protect and enhance the variety of life in a community so that the species are abundant is very crucial as this will provide continued existence, adaptation and normal ecological function. This is essential for a stable ecosystem. This can be illustrated in figure 2
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