Solving the Biodiversity Crisis

The well-being of the Earth has been threatened considerably by the unprecedented changes in biodiversity and climate. Scientists have expressed the importance of tackling the crisis of climate change and biodiversity loss, simultaneously. This is because the majority of greenhouse gases emitted due to human activities are absorbed by plants and microbes (e.g., bacteria, and fungi), which help to maintain the earth's ecosystems. However, climate change has led to a significant loss of biodiversity.

Biodiversity

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Climate Change and Biodiversity loss

Biodiversity loss refers to the decline or complete disappearance of biological species. In the last few decades, the rate of biodiversity decline has been alarming. Some of the main causes of biodiversity loss are pollution, climate change, deforestation, invasion of alien species, and over-exploitation of natural resources. Scientists have emphasized the importance of monitoring biodiversity because it might lead to the extinction of species, increase in carbon dioxide emission, and proliferation of pests. Biodiversity is closely linked to the well-being of human beings, in terms of a healthy environment and food security.

Changes in biodiversity affect climate because it is directly involved with the nitrogen, carbon, and water cycles. Scientists have proposed nature-based solutions, which, if implemented properly, would not only protect but enrich the biodiversity of the earth. This could in turn make habitats capture and store more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thereby, decreasing the rate at which the global temperature rises. Some of the key solutions proposed by scientists to prevent and restore biodiversity loss are described below:

Restoring Ecosystems on Land and in the Ocean

Besides protecting the tropical rainforests and grasslands, it is also important to preserve other habitats. For instance, mangrove swamps that occupy around 1% of the Earth’s land store around 22 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. This amount is equivalent to approximately two-thirds of total carbon dioxide emissions that occur via the combustion of fossil fuels per year. In addition, coastal habitats act as a home for numerous species including birds, reptiles, and mammals.

Peatlands are a type of wetland that includes bogs, dens, and marshes, and occupy around 3% of the global land surface. Importantly, scientists have reported that peatland stores carbon that is twice as much stored by the world’s forests. Peatland harbors many precious plants and animals such as mountain hares, red grouse, and marsh earworm.

One of the foremost reasons to protect peatlands is that a single hectare of degraded peatland emits more than 30 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. Preserving and restoring these ecosystems can reduce the pace of climate change, substantially, and aid in the restoration of biodiversity. Similarly, it is important to conserve deepwater and polar blue carbon habitats.  

Sustainable Management of Agriculture and Fishery

Scientists have pointed out that sustainable use of land and the ocean would benefit both humans as well as the environment. At present, 25% of the Earth’s surface has been used for growing food, extracting resources, and living. Agroecology, which involves incorporating trees and habitats within farm fields, enables the regeneration of topsoil, which enriches biodiversity. Besides agroforestry, another effective method of enhancing biodiversity is the diversification of planted crops and forest species. 

Sustainable management of agricultural fields and grazing systems could be achieved through soil conservation and the reduction in the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizer. Additionally, sustainable management of marine, terrestrial, and inland freshwater ecosystems would address the problems of ocean acidification. Also, the promotion of sustainable fisheries would protect the biodiversity of fishes as well as benefit industries based on fish.

At present, protected areas constitute 15 % of land and 7.5 % of the ocean, and these are biodiversity-rich areas. Researchers suggested that the conservation of species beyond protected areas must be practiced. 

Creating New Forests 

Deforestation has been one of the major contributing factors that has caused the loss of biodiversity. Creating new woodlands and forests could provide diverse habitats for a wide range of species. In this context, it is extremely important to plant the right mix of trees in the right place, according to the soil type and water availability. Huge acres of plantations of similar types of trees or non-native single species of trees would be a less useful habitat for wildlife.

On the contrary, mixed plantations of a wide range of native trees will rightly enrich the biodiversity and store more carbon, and decrease the rate of climate change. Interestingly, a study based in China reported that a forest containing several tree species captured carbon twice as much stored in an average single-species plantation.

Reducing Animal Agriculture

Animal agriculture also causes significant loss of biodiversity. Millions of hectares of the Amazonian rainforest and Central Asian and African Savanna grasslands have been plowed up for pasture to feed cows, pigs, etc. Additionally, 60% of the emissions of greenhouse gases associated with food production originate in livestock rearing and this should be immediately controlled.

Biodiversity

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Climate Mitigation Measures could also be Harmful to Biodiversity

Some of the climate mitigation measures have proved to have detrimental effects on biodiversity. For instance, planting bioenergy crops in monocultures over a huge area of land negatively impacts the biodiversity of that area. Also planting exotic tree species during reforestation affects the biodiversity of the land. This shows that planting trees alone is not a solution to enhance biodiversity and slowing down the process of climate change. Instead, planting the right mix and type of trees would not only enrich biodiversity but also have a positive impact on climate change and the environment at large.

Sources:

  • Lawton, G. (2021) Rescue plan for nature: How to fix the biodiversity crisis. [Online] Available at: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24933223-300-rescue-plan-for-nature-how-to-fix-the-biodiversity-crisis/
    Four ways to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises simultaneously. (2021) [Online] Available at: https://theconversation.com/four-ways-to-tackle-the-climate-and-biodiversity-crises-simultaneously-162631
  • Climate change and biodiversity loss should be tackled together. (2021) [Online] Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/research-and-innovation/en/horizon-magazine/climate-change-and-biodiversity-loss-should-be-tackled-together
  • Malcom, J. et al. (2019) Solve the biodiversity crisis with funding. Science. 365(6459). pp. 1256.  DOI: 10.1126/science.aay9839
  • Tackling Biodiversity & Climate Crises Together and Their Combined Social Impacts. (2013) Online] Available at: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2021/06/tackling-biodiversity-climate-crises-together-and-their-combined-social-impacts/

Further Reading

Last Updated: Feb 15, 2022

Dr. Priyom Bose

Written by

Dr. Priyom Bose

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

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