Biodiversity: What and Why?

Biodiversity: What is it?

Biodiversity is the variety of species and their interaction in a given area. Bio means life while diversity means variety. This means that biodiversity means variety of life. Biodiversity also represents the natural health and environmental quality of an area.

Biodiversity Loss

Biodiversity loss is the process by which species rich areas and healthy ecosystems lose several species which disrupts the natural order and leads to the complete collapse of the ecosystem. It can occur in many ways:

  • Introduction of an Invasive species- Species like the blue rock pigeon, Prosopis juliflora, Lantana, mynahs, etc. are species which have a faster reproductive rate than many native species.
  • Loss of Keystone species: Keystone species are species which uphold the entire ecosystem; without them, the ecosystem will collapse and all other species present will also die out. (Eg- Hornbills in Pakke Tiger Reserve, Elephants in most of the African Savannah.
  • Deforestation, Habitat loss, and exploitation for minerals and metals: Deforestation leads to the complete destruction of biodiversity as the food web collapses with no herbivores. Habitat loss destroys space, which means there is no place for biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem. Exploitation for minerals and mining abuses the land, depriving it of nutrients and eventually contributing to habitat loss.

Importance of Biodiversity

You may be thinking at this point… “What’s it got to do with me? How does it affect my life?” Well, let’s see some examples of how biodiversity benefited us. But for that, we must understand the basic principle of biodiversity- new genes and species are created due to biodiversity, as idealized in the Darwin’s Theory.

Examples

Flood tolerant Rice: The state of Orissa in India is flooded for 14 days annually. It used to result in the destruction of millions of kilos of rice. However, a gene called the Sub1A was passed into the rice, which made them flood tolerant. In the picture, you can see 2 patches of rice- 1 which is bent, half destroyed, a rice sample called swarna, and another which lush and green, which is swarna+Sub1A. This ensured that there was sufficient food, and protected the livelihoods of thousands of farmers. Now, the gene is being created in labs and being widely distributed among farmers.

Malaria fighting Plants: A tree called artemisia annua, native to south-east Asia, showed anticancer properties, but cannot fight cancer. It just lowers the chances of getting cancer. A compound present in it also proved effective in fighting malaria.


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