“Biodiversity is our most valued, but least appreciated resource.” – Edward O. Wilson, American biologist, naturalist and writer
Biological diversity, or biodiversity, describes the variety of life, encompassing ecosystems and species. Thriving biodiversity yields nutritious food we eat, clean air we breathe, and strong foundations for society, enhancing adaptability and resiliency of the natural world to pressing challenges, such as climate change. It encompasses all biological levels, from single genes to entire ecosystems. Let’s take a look at how biodiversity spans our globe!
Oceans. Scientists say the number of species that live in the ocean is unknown, and 91% of species have yet to be identified. Various ocean environments allow for unique animals to thrive – with cold water ecosystems housing kelp forests and otters, and tropical island ecosystems containing a larger array of coral reefs and more. Did you know tiny single celled organisms in the ocean provide most of our oxygen! Many organisms have biodiversity in genetics, as distinct genes and traits allow for ongoing adaptation to and evolution in a changing environment. Some coral reefs, for example, may have the genetic capability to adapt to survive warmer and acidic water, an important discovery for an environment which is extremely valuable for marine animals, although one decimated by ocean acidification, coral bleaching, and pollution runoff, killing many corals.
Forests. From the smallest of soil organisms to the tallest of trees, many diverse species live in forests. But not all forests are the same, ranging types of flora, animals, rainfall, and other unique characteristics. Rich biodiversity is threatened by wildfires, an ever growing reality in the United States and around the world. Some forests rely on natural wildfire to maintain proper function and health, but not in the massive scale and severity we are experiencing in the present due to climate change. Forests are also threatened by over-logging, overharvest of species, and overgrowth of invasive species.
Urban and Agriculture. Biodiversity exists everywhere! Many plants and animals have adapted to urban settings, creating ecosystems that allow fragments of the natural world to thrive even in the middle of huge metropolises. Biodiversity in species refers to the variety of species in ecosystems: the mix of trees, plants, predators, and prey critical to support a healthy circle of life and adjust to disturbances. Various species of bees and butterflies pollinate 75% of flowering plants and nearly 75% of crops, many of which are native. However, pollinators cannot thrive in cities, suburbs or rural areas when farmers and communities use toxic pesticides and herbicides, such as glyphosate.
Before our eyes, this planet is experiencing its sixth mass extinction, as dozens of species go extinct every day. A 2019 UN report estimates that 1 million species are currently at risk for extinction, a statistic accelerating at an alarming rate. As a result, global biodiversity has declined 50% in the past 40 years. We have lost half of all species on Earth in a geological blink of an eye.
Why is this mass extinction happening?
Unlike previous mass extinctions, the current precipitous loss of biodiversity is caused almost entirely by human activity. Deforestation and urban expansion, spreading of invasive and non-native species, and climate change all dramatically reduce habitats and biodiversity. Humans directly disrupt nature as well, through movement, usage and actions such as tourism, ships, and dams. When diminished, ecosystems become imbalanced and unable to function effectively, putting ourselves and other species at risk.
There are many conservation solutions to protect against the loss of biodiversity, which include preserving land, establishing more protected areas, limiting tourism, and reducing specific threats to species. Other solutions like land and water conservation, stringent protections for endangered species, and a shift away from industrial animal agriculture are also possible. If we envision a global transition from a consumptive and exploitative worldview to one that prioritizes conservation and biodiversity, we can achieve harmony and live in harmony among all species and the Earth.
Businesses and organizations champion can these practices, driving innovative work to ensure the health of our planet for future generations. Everyone’s plant-based body care products are made of safe, natural, organic, and sustainably-farmed ingredients. And the company is fully transparent about ingredient integrity and sourcing. Friends of the Earth aims to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and promote the shift to organic farming systems that are more beneficial for bees, butterflies, people and planet.
Individuals (like you!) can also help combat biodiversity loss. How? Planting native and pollinator-friendly plants, not using pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and buying organic all directly support biodiversity. What you learn in Turning Green Classroom helps! By decreasing your carbon footprint and water consumption, living a low waste lifestyle, using eco-friendly products, supporting local farms, and advocating for justice, you are preserving biodiversity.
Biodiversity is extremely important to all ecosystems. Without biodiversity, they become unstable with impacts beyond any perceived borders. It is important to think of biodiversity as more than just tropical rainforests and coral reefs. Biodiversity is all around us. What ecosystem do you live in or near?
At the top of a page, write an ecosystem near you. Now spend 3 minutes making a list of different species that live there. If you get stuck, think about what lives in the ground, uses the sky or hides in small areas.
Next to each species, list one function it provides. Do they make energy through photosynthesis, decompose dead organisms, provide important nutrients, prey upon others keeping populations in check? Think creatively.
Take a look at your list of organisms and functions. Choose one and write a couple of sentences about why it is important to the ecosystem near you. How does this relate to the broader world?
Share your list and learnings with classmates, friends and family. Post about it on social media with a drawing or photo, tagging @TurningGreenOrg.
There is a lot to know about biodiversity. Knowledge is the first step in making change and quality resources make it easy to get a solid sense of the massive issue.
- Skim this article from National Geographic summarizing a recent UN biodiversity report
- Read this piece from Friends of the Earth about how humans must change our views on biodiversity
- Watch or read one of the resources below:
With that inspiration, create a concept map. Write “biodiversity” in the center of the page. Depict everything you have learned about the topic on that page through words, icons and images. Draw lines to connect and build upon concepts creatively.
Where do you fit in? Do some research and find an impactful way that you can personally help biodiversity.
Share your concept map and ideas with classmates, friends, family and on social media, tagging @TurningGreenOrg.
Glyphosate is a toxic chemical destroying our world’s biodiversity and negatively impacting human health, to which we are easily exposed without even knowing. Countless schools, universities, and community parks use Roundup on green spaces, a weed killer made by Monsanto with glyphosate as the active ingredient. What can you do about this massive challenge to human and environmental health? More than you think! Let’s get started.
Now, design a campaign to ban glyphosate in your community or school to increase biodiversity and safeguard health! Develop actionable steps to make a difference on this issue.
- Create a visual and compelling call to action that will raise awareness to ignite change.
- Share with neighbors, classmates and on social media, tagging @TurningGreenOrg and Herbicide Free Campus.