Wilson’s Law – If you save the living environment, the biodiversity that we have left, you will also automatically save the physical environment too. If you only save the physical environment, you will ultimately lose both.
The well-being of human populations is directly dependant on biodiversity. Quite simply, species matter, and now more than ever. Healthy ecosystems are the prerequisite for thriving communities, and as habitats degrade and species disappear, these losses are having a profound effect on humans worldwide.
Even if we put aside all non-utilitarian reasons for saving our natural inheritance, biodiversity and all its individual components are worth saving for the simple reason that our own life depends on them. Ecosystem service, the myriad of ways in which biodiversity turns our planet into a sustainable biosphere, support all life, including our own.
The benefits that ecosystems provide come in several forms.
- "Provisioning services" refer to the products of ecosystems, such as naturally occurring medicines and food.
- "Regulating services" include such critically important activities as cleaning the air, purifying the water, or controlling the climate.
- "Supporting services" include primary productivity by plants, plant pollination by insects, and nutrient cycling; in other words, services required to enable other services to take place.
- "Cultural services" are the benefits of a non-material nature that humans receive, such as the inherent aesthetic value of the natural world.
Can you think of some ecosystem services that species in your backyard might be providing for you right now?
Species are the building blocks of ecosystems and their presence or absence may often show how healthy an ecosystem is, and can be an early warning of problems that lie ahead. Amphibians, for instance, in addition to being of great value in biomedical sciences, are highly sensitive to pollutants and thus good indicators of the ecosystem disturbance.
More importantly, as species disappear, so does the genetic information contained in their DNA. Once a species is gone, we will never know what potential cures, new crops, or technological advanced might have been discovered with its help. Tragically, many species become extinct even before mankind has the chance to realize their existence, and who knows what value they may have held?
In the United States alone over 50 percent of all prescribed medicine is linked to natural sources, and in developing nations the demand for natural remedies is even greater. The destruction of ecosystems such as the world’s rainforests is having a dramatic effect on medical resources provided by nature. It is important to conserve not only species that have already been found, but also to strive to uncover those that are yet unknown to science. These discoveries are helping humans to learn about a species’ role within the ecosystem it inhabits and to more fully understand their importance and the irreplaceable functions they provide.
Humans transform the world more deeply and in more ways than any other organism past or present. Our actions alter entire ecosystems and every living thing within them. Sometimes these changes affect our own lives in the most unexpected ways. Examples are many, but the loss of thousands of human lives during the recent tsunami in southest Asia could have been easily prevented by maintaining the seemingly worthless mangrove vegetation along the coast of Sri Lanka and Thailand.
Ecosystems are incredibly complex, finely tuned living machineries. It is therefore of the utmost importance that we keep in mind the words of the great ecologist Aldo Leopold: “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” Each species, no matter how seemingly small and insignificant, can be the critical cog, or the keystone species, on which the survival of the entire ecosystem depends.
The more we know about these individual components of the living machinery of Earth, the greater chances we have to avoid inflicting irreparable damages that will affect our and all future generations.