Why Study Biodiversity?

 

  Biodiversity is simply all of the living organisms on Earth. It is our legacy and our responsibility to conserve it. Why?
  1. Because the survival of humans depends upon properly function ecosystems to maintain drinkable water, breathable air and productive soils to grow food.

  2. We do not yet know how important biodiversity is to these processes.

  The best information we have indicates that hundreds of species of organisms (mostly small inconspicuous ones) are becoming extinct worldwide every year.

  Scientists do not yet know whether losing these species will adversely affect ecosystem function. The study of biodiversity is an attempt to answer the following questions:

  1. How many species of organism are there? (2 million? 20 million?)

  2. What are these organisms? (mostly bacteria, fungi and small animals)

  3. Where do they occur?

  4. Which species are important to the function of ecosystems? (nobody knows)

  5. Which species are endangered and how can they be saved?

        Aldo Leopold once wrote that the first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all of the parts. As humans tinker with ecosystems, we should remember his advice. An ecosystem is like a complex machine, such as an airplane, for example. Each time we lose a species to extinction, it is like a rivet falling off of the airplane. Losing one or two rivets might not be a problem. Hundreds of rivets? Who knows? We wouldn't want a wing to fall off of the Earth's ecosystem. If the airplane "Earth" lost the equivalent to an airplane's tail stabilizer (that happened,) we humans would certainly be among the species crashing to extinction.


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last revised 15 March 2000 / prepared by Clay Harris