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It’s Biodiversity Month! Here in Australia, the month of September marks a time that we acknowledge the importance of protecting, conserving and improving biodiversity within our wonderful ecosystems.
You’ve probably heard of the word ‘biodiversity’ — but what does it actually mean? Biodiversity has been described as the ‘web of life’, ‘the variety of living things’ or ‘the different plants, animals and micro-organisms, their genes and ecosystems of which they are a part’. The ‘web of life’ encompasses absolutely everything, from the smallest microbes to the largest living mammals — including humans!
Australia has a wonderful array of different plants and species; many of which are found nowhere else in the world. About 84% of our plants, 83% of our mammals, and 45% of our birds are only found in Australia. We also have a thriving marine environment, with at least 45 different species of whales, dolphins and porpoises. Amazing, right?
So, why is biodiversity important?
Many of us who live in cities are quite disconnected from the natural world. We have unlimited resources at our fingertips; like clean water, fresh produce and medicines — but we don’t really give much thought to the processes behind it. These essential resources would not exist without biodiversity! Healthy biodiversity provides a wide range of services to humans and non-humans. According to Global Issues (Shah, 2014), these services fall into three categories:
Protection of water, soil, nutrients and climate stability.
Resources such as food, medicines, plants, wood products and the diversity of species and ecosystems.
Awareness and appreciation of our natural world through research, education, recreation, tourism and cultural values.
As you can see, practically everything around us relies on healthy biodiversity!
If biodiversity is so important, why are we losing it at such a rapid rate?
We are currently in the Earth’s sixth mass extinction event, which has been described by scientists as a “biological annihilation”. According to New Scientist (Aldhous, 2014), the extinction action rate of species is now understood to be 1,000 times higher than before humans dominated the planet.
It can be a little difficult for us to understand how and why species go extinct. Many species become endangered or extinct due to climate change, habitat destruction, toxic pollution, overexploitation of resources (fishing and hunting) and the introduction of invasive/foreign species — all of which are influenced by humans. Continued population growth and overconsumption means that more land needs to be cleared for resources, which ultimately produces more pollution/waste.
Deforestation and land-clearing in Australia is a really significant problem. We’ve cleared almost half of our forests in the last 200 years, leading to the extinction of tens of millions of native species (Wilderness Society, 2018). Unfortunately, most of this land-clearing is for cattle. The Wilderness Society (2019) found that 73% of all deforestation in Queensland (one of the worst affected areas) is linked to beef production.
It’s hard for us to make the connection between beef production, deforestation and biodiversity loss — but just because we don’t see it, it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
So, what can we do about it?
How you live, what you eat, what you wear and how you dispose of waste can help or hinder healthy biodiversity. Making small changes to encourage biodiversity, in your backyard, for example, and larger-scale behavioural changes can have a really positive impact on our natural biodiversity. It’s also important to vote and advocate for a sustainable future; after all, we want our children and grandchildren to grow up on a healthy planet!
For Biodiversity Month, we encourage you to make small-scale and large-scale behavioural changes to protect, conserve and improve local biodiversity. We hope that some of these changes can become lifelong habits!