Why Conserve Ecosystems and Biodiversity?
What is Biodiversity?
Biodiversity, or biological diversity, is the incredible variety of life on Earth. This includes all of the plants, animals and microorganisms that live on the Earth’s surface, their enormous diversity of genes, all of the habitats that they call home, and all of the natural processes that they are a part of.
Ecosystems and the biodiversity they contain are the Earth’s life support system – we depend on them for the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. Wetlands filter contaminants from water, plants and trees reduce global warming by absorbing carbon, and microorganisms break down organic material and fertilize the soil to provide food. Biodiversity helps pollinate our flowers and crops and it provides food and medicine for our wellbeing. Without it we wouldn’t be able to survive.
The importance of our natural world is revealed to us in the thousands of different ways that the organisms on the Earth interact with each other to contribute to the balance of the global ecosystem and the survival of the planet. No single life form can live in isolation.
Why are tropical ecosystems a conservation priority?
Tropical forest ecosystems have the most species of all types of plants and animals on Earth, many of which have not yet been discovered. As modern civilization continues to progress, an increasing percentage of these forests are cleared for commercial purposes. Both global and local market demand for soy, corn, palm oil, livestock and other products has led to the clearing of vast tracts of tropical forest, and each day thousands of acres of forest are lost along with countless species that have evolved over the course of millions of years. Unique tropical deciduous forest ecosystems and Andean cloud forests have already lost over 95% of their original extent in many regions, and lush Amazon rainforests are being destroyed at an alarming pace.
Providing high-value services
Tropical forests provide a host of essential goods and services on both a regional and global scale, making their conservation of utmost importance. Because of their high biomass, tropical forests help regulate the global climate, reduce the greenhouse effect by storing millions of tons of carbon in plant tissues and soil, prevent soil erosion, and protect the watersheds that provide clean water to thousands. If a monetary value were attached to these seemingly free services, it would be many billions of dollars every year.
A bounty of ecosystem goods
Tropical forests also provide goods such as timber, fibers, resins, plant and animal products, food products from thousands of edible species of which only a fraction currently enter world commerce, biological and genetic resources, and medicines. In fact, less than 1% of the world's tropical forest plants have been tested for pharmaceutical properties, yet at least 25% of all modern drugs have an active ingredient derived from plants, in many cases first discovered and used by indigenous peoples.
The intrinsic value of tropical forests
Tropical forests are also important simply through their existence, to protect the innate and cultural values of the natural world. Indigenous peoples rely on the forests for their way of life, as the forests meet their economic needs for food and shelter and form an integral part of their culture and spiritual traditions. Many people enjoy leisure and tourism activities in tropical forests, and students, musicians, writers and artists have been inspired by the astounding beauty of tropical biodiversity. By conserving biological diversity now, we enable future generations to value and benefit from it too.
Now more than ever, we must all be conservationists. The relentless conversion of these natural habitats continues at an alarming pace, and the near future will determine how much of nature survives, and which creatures will vanish with their unique genes and their carefully crafted role in the web of life. Our generation will decide the outcome.
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