The problem of biodiversity loss

The word biodiversity is a contraction of biological diversity; It therefore refers to variety in the living world. The term biodiversity is commonly applied to describe the quantity, variety and variability of living organisms. This broad use encompasses many different parameters, and in this context biodiversity is actually synonymous with Life on Earth.

In the last 10.000 years, the animal and plant diversity that marvels us today, the result of a history of billions of years of evolution where living beings have conquered environments as different as the oceans and the air; They have settled in the warm and humid tropical regions, and also in the cold and arid polar areas; To solve the challenges of locomotion, feeding, communication or reproduction, they have deployed an overwhelming variety of solutions.

However, this exaltation of life is suffering a devastating setback due to human activity. The rhythm of extinction of species has accelerated drastically, it is estimated that it is currently at least 400 times greater than what existed before the appearance of human beings.

If we calculate the extinction rate at this moment, based on the numbers of species per area, taking into account the loss of tropical forests (approximately 1/3 in the last 40 years), 50.000 species become extinct per year (only 7.000 of them known). This represents 10.000 times the natural extinction rate and represents 5% of the total number of species per decade. If these numbers continue, by the end of the XNUMXst century two-thirds of the species on Earth will have disappeared.

The richness of biodiversity and ecosystems that are sources of life for human beings and the bases of sustainable development are in serious danger. Increasing desertification globally leads to the loss of biological diversity. Recently about eight hundred species have disappeared and eleven thousand are threatened. It is easy to understand that with this incessant loss of resources, food security is at risk. The loss of biological diversity often reduces the productivity of ecosystems, and thus reduces the possibility of obtaining various goods from nature, from which humans constantly benefit.

The three main causes of this loss of biodiversity are:

  1. The destruction of natural habitats: This is one of the main causes of biodiversity loss in the world. Tropical forests, undoubtedly the main stores of biodiversity on the planet, are disappearing at a dizzying rate.
  2. Fragmentation: Crop fields, urban areas, roads and highways constitute insurmountable barriers for numerous species. For these living beings, their natural habitat has gone from occupying extensive uninterrupted areas to being divided into smaller isolated fragments. It is the effect known as habitat fragmentation, responsible for the local extinction of numerous species. When a certain number of individuals of a species are confined to a small portion of territory, the danger of extinction is much greater.
  3. The lifeless fields: The emergence of modern industrial agriculture, based on specialization and the massive use of fertilizers and pesticides, produces a sharp decline in species. In the countries most intensely exploited by these new forms of industrial agriculture, the term green desert has been coined to refer to these new landscapes, very poor in wildlife.

Due to these causes, man is facing two serious problems: the lack of scientific knowledge about all living beings and the mass extinction of species. These problems are related and any solution to them must be based jointly on generating new knowledge and forging a new relationship with the natural world. The importance of biodiversity must be recognized at a global level and its treatment must appear on government agendas and in educational programs.

So far it seems that humans have gotten their way, as proven by the fact that many species have become extinct due to human activities and life continues. However, we do not know what we will need due to the loss of species. Some environmentalists compare the decline in biodiversity to flying on an airplane from which we gradually remove the rivets. How many rivets can we remove?... It still seems that nothing has happened due to the loss of species, but without a doubt the world is less beautiful and more monotonous without them. Possibly we have not yet detected the magnitude of the damage we have caused.

At the International Conference on Biodiversity that took place in Paris, France, scientists agreed to alert the world about the danger of biodiversity loss. When discussing the economic possibilities for countries that are repositories of biodiversity wealth, emphasis is placed on the establishment of clear rules on the use of patents and intellectual property in the field of genetics and biotechnology.

All the presentations of the specialists who participated in Paris moved away from the fundamentalist approach of conservation without human intervention. The sustainable development equation cannot be conceived without the human factor. It is necessary to understand that protecting biodiversity is synonymous with fighting poverty in the world. Sustainable development continues to be the great challenge to achieve a balance between development and conservation.

Man, in all times, has had a need for change and at the same time, fear of change. This contradiction is manifest in the industrial civilization that advocated the ruthless use of the natural environment, and that now shows growing concern about the loss of biological diversity. It is difficult to imagine social development like the current one without affecting the natural environment, and of this The most fragile element is biological diversity. However, if in the post-industrial era human societies want to be masters of their destiny, they must be able to regulate their activity and growth, obtain the satisfiers they need without deteriorating the most important legacy of biological evolution: biodiversity.

The extinction of plant and animal species is one of the most worrying symptoms of environmental deterioration in the world, since it constitutes an irreversible process that forever deprives us of unique and irreplaceable genetic material of which we may not even know yet what practical applications may have for the benefit of the same humanity that destroys them. This may be the easiest concept to understand in the materialistic and interested world in which we usually move, but it is not the only reason that recommends the conservation of species.

Indeed, the mere fact of not substantially altering the delicate fabric that unites living beings with each other would have to be enough for us, and which reminds us that each species occupies a peculiar ecological niche that, with its extinction, either remains vacant or is occupied by other more ubiquitous species. With which unique food chains are simplified or disappear, and as if this were not enough, the sole right to coexist on planet Earth in plant and animal species should be established as the main argument to avoid extinction by all means.

* Cristian Frers He is a Senior Technician in Environmental Management and a Senior Technician in Social Communication.

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