• World
  • May 22

The domino effect of biodiversity loss

• Biological diversity is often understood in terms of the wide variety of plants, animals and microorganisms, but it also includes genetic differences within each species — for example, between varieties of crops and breeds of livestock — and the variety of ecosystems (lakes, forest, deserts, agricultural landscapes) that host multiple kind of interactions among their members (humans, plants, animals).

• Biological diversity resources are the pillars upon which we build civilisations. 

• Fish provide 20 per cent of animal protein to about three billion people. Over 80 per cent of the human diet is provided by plants. As many as 80 per cent of people living in rural areas in developing countries rely on traditional plant‐based medicines for basic healthcare.

• But loss of biodiversity threatens all, including our health. It has been proven that biodiversity loss could expand zoonoses — diseases transmitted from animals to humans. 

• If we keep biodiversity intact, it offers excellent tools to fight against pandemics like those caused by coronaviruses.

• While there is a growing recognition that biological diversity is a global asset of tremendous value to future generations, the number of species is being significantly reduced by certain human activities.

Accelerating extinction rate 

Every piece of an ecosystem depends on the others like a jigsaw puzzle. For instance, a change in the temperature of an ecosystem will have knock-on effects on other things, like what plants and animals can grow and live there. 

• As human populations have grown, we have begun to encroach on, and in some cases overtake, ecosystems causing their rich biodiversity to suffer. 

• Around one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history. 

• More than 40 per cent of amphibian species, almost 33 per cent of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened.

Ecosystem ‘architect’

• Among the animals at risk is the gopher tortoise, one of the oldest living species on the planet.

• Their reduced number is not just problematic for the survival of the tortoise as a species, however, as these charismatic creatures also play a vital role in preserving the delicate balance of their coastal realm.  

• Gopher tortoises are not merely occupants of their habitat; they are architects, sculpting ecosystems and providing sanctuaries for over 350 other species. With their front legs functioning like shovels, they dig burrows that range in size from 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 metres) long and from 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.5 metres) deep.  

• From small insects to larger amphibians, each organism plays a vital role in the ecosystem’s intricate web of life these burrows provide. For some, the burrows of the gopher tortoise are a safe haven for breeding and nurturing offspring, while for others, they offer respite from predators and the elements.

• Should the gopher tortoise vanish, it is likely a domino effect would be felt throughout the ecosystem.  

• Among the most vulnerable is the critically endangered dusky gopher frog, a species already teetering on the brink of extinction. Reliant on the tortoise’s burrows for shelter and survival, the disappearance of the tortoise would most likely put the frog’s survival at risk too.

Extinction breeds extinction 

• Ecosystems are built on intricate networks of connections between different species, as the gopher tortoise-dusky gopher frog example indicates.  

• The domino effect could lead to more species going extinct and eventually even to the collapse of entire ecosystems.  

• The ripple effect of the extinction of a single species can affect countless others, disrupting vital ecological functions. 

• The endangered sea otter provides another example of intricate dependencies within ecosystems. Calling the Pacific kelp forests their home, they were once plentiful, but are now locally endangered due to being relentlessly hunted for their fur in the past.  

• In a finely tuned ecological dance, sea otters prey on sea urchins, halting the unrestrained growth of sea urchin populations. Without the presence of otters, these spiky grazers run rampant, transforming lush kelp forests into desolate ‘urchin barrens’.  

• But the demise of sea otters would have impacts that extend far beyond the disappearance of kelp alone. Over 1,000 species — including sharks, turtles, seals, whales, birds, and a multitude of fish —  rely on these underwater havens for their very existence.  

• Intense human activities, such as land-use change, overexploitation, climate change, pollution and the introduction of invasive species, is causing an extinction acceleration that is at least tens to hundreds of times faster than the natural process of extinctions.  

• Addressing the biodiversity crisis demands a multifaceted approach that recognises the interconnectedness of risks and solutions.

International Day for Biological Diversity

• The UN observes International Day for Biodiversity on May 22. 

• This universal observance commemorates the adoption of the text of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) on 22 May 1992 and provides a unique opportunity to foster wide support for the Convention, its Protocols and related action frameworks.

• This year, the theme of the International Day for Biological Diversity is “Be part of the Plan”. This is a call to action to encourage governments, indigenous peoples and local communities, non-governmental  organisations, lawmakers, businesses, and individuals to highlight the ways in which they are supporting the implementation of the Biodiversity Plan.

• In December 2022, the world came together and agreed on a global plan to transform our relationship with nature. The adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, also known as The Biodiversity Plan, sets goals and concrete measures to stop and reverse the loss of nature by 2050.

Convention on Biological Diversity

• The Earth’s biological resources are vital to our economic and social development but human activities are taking a toll on many animal and plant species. A legal framework exists for countries all over the world to protect biodiversity together: the Convention on Biological Diversity.

• The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is the international legal instrument for “the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources” that has been ratified by 196 nations.

• The United States has not ratified the convention.

• The text of the Convention was adopted on May 22, 1992 in Nairobi and was opened to signature on June 5, 1992, during the Rio Earth Summit. Within a year, it had received 168 signatures. It entered into force on December 29, 1993.

• With 196 Parties, the CBD has near universal participation among countries. 

• Its overall objective is to encourage actions, which will lead to a sustainable future.

• The Convention on Biological Diversity covers biodiversity at all levels: ecosystems, species and genetic resources. 

• It also covers biotechnology, including through the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. 

• In fact, it covers all possible domains that are directly or indirectly related to biodiversity and its role in development, ranging from science, politics and education to agriculture, business, culture and much more.

• The CBD’s governing body is the Conference of the Parties (COP). This ultimate authority of all governments (or Parties) that have ratified the treaty meets every two years to review progress, set priorities and commit to work plans.

• The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD) is based in Montreal, Canada. Its main function is to assist governments in the implementation of the CBD and its programmes of work, to organise meetings, draft documents, and coordinate with other international organisations and collect and spread information. The Executive Secretary is the head of the Secretariat.

• The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing are supplementary agreements to the CBD.

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