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Biodiversity may be one of the most underappreciated blessings bestowed upon mankind by nature. Sadly, unless mankind starts to appreciate biodiversity, it may disappear and mankind with it. The American Museum of Natural History defines biodiversity as “the variety of life on Earth at all its levels, from genes to ecosystems, and can encompass the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes that sustain life.” 1 Effectively, over millions of years, nature has produced plants, animals, habitats, and everything in between, all of which are linked directly or indirectly to each other.
These linkages and values were key to sustaining certain species, including mankind. Without the direct and indirect values given to us from biodiversity, humankind would diminish. However, the pollution resulting from mankind’s resource consumption could have weaken the links that keep our food supply healthy and certain diseases in check.
In the poem To a Mouse, Robert Burns wrote “the best laid plans of mice and men often go askew.”2 The story goes that Mr.
Burns wrote this poem after plowing his field and accidentally destroying a mouse’s nest, which it needed to survive the winter. The affected mouse probably took little comfort from Mr. Burns’ poem that winter. All that mouse knew is that its habitat was destroyed and a little bit of biodiversity with it (actually, the mouse may not have understood that piece). The broader problem is, of course, there are billions of people like Mr. Burns operating in the world today.
While not everyone is busy plowing a field, many are destroying more than a mouse’s nest with the pollution resulting from their normal daily routine of driving to work.
Researchers at Penn State University have determined “Bees’ ability to forage decreases as air pollution increases.” 3 It is this very ability, acquired over millions of years of evolution, that bees use to pollinate plants. However, the Penn State researchers found that man-made pollution confused the bees, inhibiting their ability to locate and pollinate the plants, resulting in lower crop yields. The result could be a loss of biodiversity. According to the Penn State study, “declines in the pollination of wild plants may lead to increases in the population of plants that do not rely on pollinators, and pollinator declines would lead to decreases in crop yields. Unfortunately, according to the BBC, a full “one-third of food is pollination-dependent.” 4 While a third may not sound like the end of mankind, it’s hard to predict how the lower yields of those crops would affect all the other species and ecosystems dependent on those crops. There could very well be a biodiversity-based domino effect, leading to the extinction of more animals, more plants, and more ecosystems.
If losing a third of crops doesn’t threaten mankind, perhaps the rapid spread of Lyme disease would be. In research by the Cary Institute, “Studies reveal that the greater the diversity of animal species, the less chance Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases will spread to people.” 5 The reason for this, according to the study, is that mice flourish when biodiversity declines, and mice are more common origins of Lyme disease. Moreover, some animals, like opossums, eat ticks by the thousands. However, berries, nuts, and vegetables are also part of the opossums’ diet. Those are the same berries, nuts and vegetables that need bees to pollinate.
Our biodiverse environment is the result of millions of years of natural growth, decay, mutation, extinction, rebirth, and evolution. Mankind arrived several thousand years ago. Man-made pollution has been a more recent phenomenon, but man-made pollution could bring more bee confusion which could lead to less biodiverse plants. Less biodiverse plants could lead to a less biodiverse ecosystem which would give way to more Lyme disease-carrying mice. Ticks could pick up the Lyme disease from the mice and flourish as well since the opossum population, who would otherwise eat the ticks, has diminished. This is how delicate nature is and how mankind needs to adjust his ways. Of mice and men (and bees and ticks), men are the ones who need to make some changes.
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