…the evidence from changes in extent, composition and quality of vegetation communities, and from case studies on selected species, points towards continuing decreases in population sizes, geographic ranges and genetic diversity, and increasing risks of population collapses in substantial proportions of most groups of plants, animals and other forms of life across much of Australia (Australia State of the Environment , 2011).
The above conclusion wasn’t by a conservation organisation wanting to shock, or an academic researcher trying to secure funding for their research. The above conclusion headlines the Australian Government’s latest State of Environment Report. And this conclusion is not an isolated one. The Living Planet Index indicates that biodiversity loss is a global phenomenon (Figure 1).
Figure 1. The Living Planet Index indicating trends in populations for terrestrial, freshwater and marine species from 1970 to 2000.
Why should the loss of biodiversity concern us?
It’s a reasonable question. Why, in a world with poverty, disease, war and inequality should the decline of biodiversity be a priority to redress?
The answer is that biodiversity enriches our lives in many ways, provides essential ecosystem services that support life and we are obligated to future generations – and other species – to pass on biodiversity in an equal or better state than the state in which it was presented to us.
Part of the problem with “biodiversity” is that it is such an all-encompassing concept (the variety of life) that it is difficult to pin-down or quantify in a way that is readily understandable.
One way the value of biodiversity is illustrated is with a metric that motivates many people and policy-makers: dollars. In their synthesis report, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity estimate that:
- conserving forests avoids greenhouse gas emissions worth US$3.7 trillion,
- 30 million people globally are relient on the products of coral reef ecosystems and
- urban trees of Canberra reduce energy costs and sequester carbon worth $20-70 million (research undertaken by Assoc. Prof. Cris Brack at the Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University).
Of course, it is simplistic to calculate the value of biodiversity using utilitarian criteria alone. There are aesthetic, recreational, educational and ethical reasons to conserve biodiversity. These are just harder to articulate and quantify.
What can we do about biodiversity loss?
So, if we agree that biodiversity is valuable and important, then how do we mitigate its decline? There are many known reasons for biodiversity loss. If solutions to these causes of decline were easy then biodiversity loss wouldn’t be an ongoing issue. One thing that is common to many biodiversity issues is that they involve conflict with stakeholders seeking other outcomes – often economic.
Finding a pathway through these challenges is what this course and blog is about. In this blog, university students enrolled in a third-year undergraduate and post-graduate course called “Biodiversity Conservation” will share their experiences and perspectives based on what they have read, who they have heard and, importantly, what they have seen with their own eyes.
I hand this blog over to our next generation of biodiversity managers.
Dr Philip Gibbons
Fenner School of Environment and Society
The Australian National University