Biodiversity Loss Will Harm Humans Too: An Australian Example

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bleached coral (pink with white spots and dull yellow) under the sea

Why It Matters

Biodiversity is a term that seeks to sum up the variety of life in the world. It is a function of the number of species, animals, plants, fungi and even micro-organisms, and the abundance of each of these species. The increasing number of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is causing the planet to warm at an unprecedented rate. The effects of these changing climatic conditions include high average winter and summer temperatures, decreased snow cover, increased sea levels and increase in ocean acidification. All of which impacts the species that make up biodiversity.

Climate change is predicted to mean the extinction of species at a greater rate then when the dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago. The diversity of species should be of high importance to humans, since it increases the ability for the ecosystems we live in to carry out their roles. A change in ecosystem functions can lead to land degradation, a change in agriculture and a reduction in water available to humans, making living harder or even impossible for us.

Sources

The original source is an article: ‘Climate Change and Biodiversity’ reviewed by Professor Ary Hoffman, from the Australian Academy of Science.

Key Takeaways

The case study of Australia is used in reference to biodiversity but this is exemplary of what is occurring all around the globe and not just in Australia.

  • In order to estimate the effect of climate change on a species, scientists use a climatic envelope. 
    • In essence it is the range of temperatures, amounts of rainfall and other climate-related parameters in which the species currently exists. As the climate warms it is these climatic envelopes that will shift, likely to the extent where species will no longer be able to survive. 
  • Small temperature changes will wipe out species in areas of Australia
  • Heatwaves have the potential to affect the biodiversity of marine ecosystems
    • For example, the heatwave in the summer of 2010-2011 in Western Australia which led to reductions in the populations of ocean creatures, such as scallops, blue swimmer crabs and yellow-eye mullet.
      • This impacted not just these creatures but the fisheries that caught them as they were forced to close for the year 2012 due to low numbers.
  • Scientists predict that by 2030 average temperatures in Australia will rise between 0.7 and 0.9°C, from their 1990 levels, across coastal regions. This will impact the number of extreme rainfall events (hurricanes, blizzards, etc), leading to events such as flash floods becoming more common in Australia.
  • Greenhouse gases are absorbed by oceans, making them more acidic
    • Much of the greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere have been absorbed by the oceans. This has caused an increase in the acidity of the water, affecting the rate at which many marine organisms can grow – commonly referred to as building skeletons – and repair.
    • Ocean acidification causes coral bleaching
      • Coral bleaching is an increasingly common phenomenon where corals expel their zooxanthellae, which provides them with food, due to stress from environmental factors. The loss of zooxanthellae affects coral growth and makes it more vulnerable to disease and death.
      • This means that coral reefs which are damaged by bleaching recover much slower and can’t be as effective at their roles in their ecosystems. 
  • Climate change will cause river levels to lower and sea levels to rise, causing havoc with the organisms that live in these areas, and having knock-on climate change consequences
    • Predicted decreases in rainfall in the Murray-Darling Basin and across south Western Australia will lower river flow in both regions and have a major impact on aquatic biota – the living parts of water ecosystems.
    • The IPCC reports predict that sea levels will rise by 26-98cm by 2100 due to thermal expansion of the oceans, which will melt polar ice caps and ice sheets, further increasing sea levels. 

The Solutions 

Big Picture solutions 

Climate change is now central to many governments ongoing plans, including Australia with it’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-2030. In Australia, action plans have also been prepared for a number of endangered species aiming to address the possible impacts of global warming. For example, the recovery plan for the mountain pygmy possum prepared by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service includes the development of a model to illustrate habitat suitability under current snow conditions and identification of key areas of refuge for the species. 

Individual Actions 

Though you could argue that it is up to governments and big corporations to make changes to improve levels of biodiversity, from an individual aspect smaller actions can make a big difference. For example, rewilding activities.

Rewilding activities are conservation efforts aimed at restoring and protecting natural processes and wilderness areas. In the UK, there is Rewilding Britain. They recently highlighted 5 principles of rewilding that is individuals we could get involved with: 

  1. Support people and nature together: finding ways to work and live within ecosystems 
  2. Let nature lead
  3. Create resilient local economies
  4. Work to nature’s scale 
  5. Secure benefits for the long term: rewilding leaves a positive legacy for future generations

References & Sources

The main source for this article is: 

Supplementary research from:

By Niamh Moody

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