Biodiversity: why does it matter and why should you care?

The world’s leading international biodiversity organization is meeting right now in Medellin, Colombia. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is preparing five massive reports on the state of biodiversity around the world, hoping to spur action and protect species worldwide.

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity is a measure of how many different species of animals or various populations live in a certain area. It’s what makes places like Madagascar different ecologically from places like the streams of Appalachia.

Both of those areas are on the World Wildlife Foundation’s (WWF) list of the 35 most biodiverse places, and they are especially vulnerable to human-caused climate change.

In a recent report, WWF and others found that half of the plants and animals in those most biodiverse places are at the risk of going extinct.

The Antarctic peninsula is one of WWF’s most biodiverse places. Photo: Tracy Shea. | Miles O'Brien Productions
The Antarctic peninsula is one of WWF’s most biodiverse places. Photo: Tracy Shea.

Why does having biodiversity matter?

How does the extinction of some rare burrowing vole in South America affect you, the reader? Why should you care about tigers in India, who’s breeding grounds could disappear due to rising sea levels?

“[T]he reality is that the air you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat all ultimately rely on biodiversity,” writes Damian Carrington in The Guardian.

“Some examples are obvious: without plants there would be no oxygen and without bees to pollinate there would be no fruit or nuts. Others are less obvious – coral reefs and mangrove swamps provide invaluable protection from cyclones and tsunamis for those living on coasts, while trees can absorb air pollution in urban areas.”

Nature is also often the best teacher. For example, the first mass-produced antibiotics were developed from a moldy cantaloupe. If biodiversity goes the way of the dinosaurs, those secrets could be lost forever.

WATCH: New antibiotics developed from soil bacteria.

What is being done to protect biodiversity?

Biodiversity needs protection through international cooperation on the order of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which puts out reports and gives policy recommendations regarding climate change.

Thankfully, there’s the IPBES, which is tasked with doing just that. They are meeting for the sixth time in their history this week and will be releasing five major reports on biodiversity this month.

Individually, countries can take greater measures to protecting biodiverse areas within their borders. Recently, Miles traveled to Cuba to see how they are protecting the unique plants and animals on the island. You can watch that report below:

Banner image credit: Tracy Shea

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