Why You Care About “Extinctions”: Biodiversity = Your Life Support Services, pt. 1

The following is part of an upcoming series of papers on “biointegrity.” Discussion groups start next week on Facebook and LinkedIN –

##

“Biodiversity itself appears to control the elemental cycles — carbon, nitrogen, water — that allow the planet to support life.” [1]

In broad terms, the convergence of climate conditions, ecosystem factors, and biodiversity productivity produce humanity’s life support services in dynamic, real time. This aspect of modern life, sitting right in front of our faces, is in immediate jeopardy of collapse due to the recent, phenomenal expansion of our species.[2] While we excel at growing our economies, the world is soft on the value of protecting life support systems.

Perhaps the best example of how climate, ecosystems and biodiversity create our life support services is oxygen. Four billion years ago there was no oxygen on Earth, no humans, no animals, no life.[3] Today, oxygen comes from two places: phytoplankton in the oceans and plants on land (primarily forests). If these living things continue to disappearing as they are today, due to warming, deforestation, and pollution, we’ll have to replace about 20% of our atmosphere and find another way to generate oxygen.[4]

Biodiversity = Life Support Services

Other than sunlight, pretty much everything we need to live on planet Earth is generated by, or governed by, living things, aka. biodiversity. Bio abundance allows us to maintain global life support systems and then grow economic wealth. Bio abundance = sustainability, security, resilience and profit. By contrast, bio scarcity and unprecedented biodiversity loss cause life support system failures.[5]

With today’s biodiversity losses the major risk is that we’ll soon “irreversibly disrupt the integrity of our ecosystems and the functions required to continuously create new life.” [6]

Extinctions reduce the sustainability and biological productivity of Earth’s ecosystems in myriad, entropic ways and today’s extinction rate is raging out of control. Any species loss, micro or macro, ultimately reduces overall biological productivity.[7] The more biodiversity we lose, the more ecological functions we lose.

Earth’s biodiversity is currently responsible for global:

  • oxygen production
  • temperature regulation
  • precipitation distribution
  • food production (obviously), and so much more.

There is no app to replace all ‘that, pardon the outdated reference. Without biological actors to replace missing species, ecosystems crash.[8] At the present moment in history, species’ productivity relationships are largely unmapped, but one thing we do know: even in rich ecosystems the loss of just one pollinator has been shown to reduce overall plant productivity by 33%.[9]

Society, civilization and technology are dependent on nature’s services.[10] Like our manmade economies, animal and plant systems achieve and maintain their health via symbiotic relationships.[11] None of this is as simple as we might wish it to be, but one thing is certain: maintaining robust, wild biodiversity is essential to maintaining our supply of life support services.[12] Biodiversity is the engine of life support on Earth — not a public good, a public necessity.

###########

I’m Chris Searles, founder of BioIntegrity, and i’m about to propose a plan for global ecological restoration. Ratification of the Paris Agreement this week makes it clear the world is moving onto the right track in terms of global environmental sustainability, but as many will say we’re not doing enough. Protecting and restoring the integrity of our biosphere is the most systemically effective climate change mitigation strategy, and the most affordable. Visit BioIntegrity.net or our Facebook page to learn more about what we’re doing. We also have a nice Tumblr.

Citations

[Graphic] Newbold, et al (2016) Has land use pushed terrestrial biodiversity beyond the planetary boundary? A global assessment. Science, 353(6296), 288–291. doi:10.1126/science.aaf2201

[1] Bielo (2012) How Biodiversity Keeps Earth Alive. Scientific American. scientificamerican.com/article/how-biodiversity-keeps-earth-alive

[2] Fischer (2012) Malthus Was Wrong. Is He Still Wrong? History, Future. Now. historyfuturenow.com/wp/malthus-was-wrong-is-he-still-wrong; Website (2016) “World Population.” Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/18/2016. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population

[3] Gongaza (2011) The Earth’s First Breathable Atmosphere. EarthSky Communications Inc. earthsky.org/earth/the-earths-first-breathable-atmosphere

[4] Biegert (2011) Oxygen on Earth. Math Encounters Blog. mathscinotes.com/2011/04/oxygen-on-earth

[5] Dìaz, et. al (2006) Biodiversity Loss Threatens Human Well Being. PLOS Biology. dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0040277

[6] paraphrased; Bøhn, Amundsen (2004) Ecological Interactions and Evolution: Forgotten Parts of Biodiversity? BioScience (2004) 54 (9) doi: 10.1641/0006–3568(2004)054[0804:EIAEFP]2.0.CO;2 bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/54/9/804.full

[7] Hooper, et al (2012) A Global Synthesis Reveals Biodiversity Loss as a Major Driver of Ecosystem Change. Nature 486, doi:10.1038/nature11118 nature.com/nature/journal/v486/n7401/full/nature11118.html

[8] Pereira (2013) Essential Biodiversity Variables. Science Vol. 339, Issue 6117, DOI: 10.1126/science.1229931science.sciencemag.org/content/339/6117/277

[9] Brosi, Briggs (2013) Single Pollinator Species Losses Reduce Floral Fidelity and Plant Reproductive Function pnas.org/content/110/32/13044.full

[10] Myers (1997) “The World’s Forests and Their Ecosystem Services” taken from the book Nature’s Services: Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems. Island Press. ISBN 1–55963–475–8. (edited by Gretchen Daily)

[11] Hooper, et al (2012) A Global Synthesis Reveals Biodiversity Loss as a Major Driver of Ecosystem Change. Nature 486, doi:10.1038/nature11118 nature.com/nature/journal/v486/n7401/full/nature11118.html

[12] Pereira (2013) Essential Biodiversity Variables. Science Vol. 339, Issue 6117, DOI: 10.1126/science.1229931science.sciencemag.org/content/339/6117/277