What is biodiversity and why should we care?

IN

On the face of it, biodiversity is simply the ecological variety within the natural environment – plants, animals and microorganisms – what we might consider ‘nature’. But biodiversity is a prodigious and complex term; the enormity of the concept is almost incomprehensible. It covers the deeply inter-connected systems of biota through all ecosystems and habitats at all scales. It is the diversity of life within great stretching forests to the sweeping moorlands or arctic deserts; the microbiota beneath us and the genetic variation within. All these are vital to maintaining our highly-evolved and relatively stable natural world, making it possible for us to live on this planet. Without biodiversity, we would not exist.

Variation within nature is key. It is integral to the balance of the natural world and our survival in it. The more variation in an ecosystem the more resilient it is to change and the stronger is its. Remove one species from the eco-chain and the chain is weakened; remove or drastically disturb others and the whole thing starts to unravel. And there are species we are yet to discover and record, so to lose them or their habitats is to remove a chain link in total blindness, perhaps without ever even knowing they are lost. So the ramifications are unknown. We are all aware of the threat to tigers, but these “vertebrate animals make up perhaps 1% of known species.” [Pearce 2015]. A plant might be less emotive, but the first law of ecology is that everything is connected.

This is why biodiversity must be on all our minds. We are the agents causing its reduction. We’re changing the climate, removing habitats, among other exploitative and destructive habits. So for our ecosystems to remain stable, either they must rapidly adapt to human enforced pressures, or we must change our detrimental practices.

We know that ecosystems with more species in them are more resilient, and can withstand changes better.

Theoretically, the initial government support and scientific evidence is in place. In 2017, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that it was 95% certain that humans are the dominant cause of global warming since the 1950s with a warming trend only projected to continue. The Smithsonian reports “Scientists agree that today’s extinction rate is hundreds, or even thousands, of times higher than the natural baseline rate (of one species per million species per year).” Now biodiversity protection and conservation are on the agenda of the Scottish and UK governments as well as globally via the UN’s Aichi agreement.

But actual change that mitigates ecological damage needs to be done at the grass roots and on a large scale, through the adoption of agri-environmental practice, and sustainable aquaculture, for example. Plus we need collective pressure on the government and businesses to maintain incentives and support for habitat restoration. And for all that we need education. Only 10% of the UK population are highly engaged with the threat to biodiversity whereas inversely 37% were not at all aware that biodiversity was under threat in the UK [UK Biodiversity Indicators 2019].

Scotland alone holds approximately 90,000 different animal, flora and microbial species. One good example on Islay is Lindenburg’s featherwort (Adelanthus lindenbergianus), recorded on Islay’s biggest hill, Beinn Bheigier. It’s an extraordinarily sensitive bryophyte – which is an order of ‘lower plants’ that embraces mosses and liverworts. Despite their meek status, these plants are good at nutrient recycling, maintaining soil moisture, initiating oil formation, and as bioindicators – meaning they reveal something else about the ecosystem. This bryophyte is not normally to be found in the northern hemisphere so its genetics are intriguing for it to appear here. It has been recorded in one other area on neighbouring Jura and has been documented in Ireland but is in decline there. Otherwise is only appears in Costa Rica, Patagonia, Madagascar, and South Georgia. This has lead to Lindenberg’s featherwort being named within an IPA (Important Plant Area) on Islay. This area designation is part of a brilliant data-sharing programme but at the moment this potentially threatened natural area is not offered additional physical protection.
It’s significance, in the words of a Plantlife: “We know that ecosystems with more species in them are more resilient, and can withstand changes better. When seen as a component part of a fantastically diverse ecosystem, Lindenberg’s featherwort takes on a special importance, and we can’t honestly say what the effects would be if we lose any one species from a complex system.”

The carnivorous Round-leaved sundew Drosera rotundifolia is a bog plant we see in Islay, though bogs are diminishing habitats in the wider world

The Botanist Foundation is part of the wider global movement to help preserve our natural environment, its vision being “To work with the people of Islay and beyond to further the understanding and conservation of the island’s biodiversity.”

The ecological future of our planet is in a fragile state and it is those of us, here now, that have to help protect it.  As a company, we feel our responsibility to act positively to help protect our environment, conserve species, and work with our island and islanders. We’ll continue educating ourselves and those around us about the importance of maintaining biodiversity and all that it supports.

FURTHER READING

More about our sustainability agenda here >

UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating

Interesting work in Conservation bias research in vertebrates in temperate regions

Listen to The Extinction Tapes

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