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Living Lightly column

What Has Biodiversity Ever Done For Us?

By Lauriston Muirhead

Biodiversity is the diversity of life found in an ecosystem.  The more biodiverse, the more balanced and resilient the ecosystem.  A diverse ecosystem is more resistant to shocks and will last longer.

What has biodiversity ever done for us? Well for a start, it has provided nearly all the oxygen on the planet.  Without oxygen, all animals including us, would be dead within minutes.  The oxygen was created by Cyanobacteria that were able to live in an early atmosphere without oxygen.  Cyanobacteria still work in green plants using the sun’s energy to turn the CO2 animals breathe out, back into oxygen (and carbon to help them grow).  This is photosynthesis and all life depends on it.

Remember, all our food is either plants – or animals that ate plants.

The biodiversity of the planet provides all our food, as well as much of our clothing, building materials and erosion protection.

OK, apart from the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and shelter, what did biodiversity ever do for us?

Well, there are the medicines.  Where would we be without the willow tree that gave us aspirin or the mould that gave us penicillin.  We can now make many drugs synthetically – but without nature’s blueprints, we would not have been able to create these and so many other medicines.  Who knows how many more “cures” exist in the plants and animals of the world?!

Our tool making ability has turned our sticks into bulldozers, our stones into bombs and our boomerangs into stealth fighter/bomber aircraft.  We have the power to hunt not just one animal but entire species to extinction.

If we think our numbers will protect us, just take the example of the passenger pigeon.  In the 19th century there were more passenger pigeons than people on the planet. By 1914 they had been hunted to extinction.

We are losing species through direct killing and habitat destruction – now exacerbated by human induced climate change.

If we keep on playing “species roulette”, someday, one of the extinction bullets we pick up might have the name “Homo sapiens” written on it.  That’s us.  We must do more to preserve all species in order to preserve our own.  So go forth and make the world more biodiverse.