Biodiversity: threats and challenges

15 July 2021

The worrying decline of biodiversity

Life appeared on Earth about 3.8 billion years ago. Current biodiversity is therefore the result of a very long evolutionary process starting with a common ancestor called “LUCA” (Last Universal Common Ancestor). During this evolution of life, millions of species have appeared and developed. Even today, scientists are regularly discovering and describing new species.

At the same time, many species are disappearing or are threatened. According to the 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, something that has never happened before in human history!

The main threats to biodiversity

There have been several phases of biodiversity extinction and renewal over geological time. No fewer than 5 mass extinctions have been recorded due to natural causes, the last of which was the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

But what concerns scientists is the extent of current biodiversity loss and its link to human activities. Indeed, since globalisation, biodiversity loss has been accelerating at an alarming rate, to the point that a 6th mass extinction has now been recognised.

The international scientific community has identified 5 main causes of biodiversity erosion:

  1. The destruction and fragmentation of natural environments is the greatest threat to biodiversity. This transformation of habitats is the result, among other things, of agriculture, urbanisation, forestry and changes to land use.

  2. The spread of invasive alien species (also known as invasive species) is the second biggest threat. Whether displaced by humans deliberately or accidentally, species such as the American crayfish, Japanese knotweed and raccoons are spreading quickly through our regions.

  3. The overexploitation of resources, connected in particular to overfishing, poaching or overgrazing, threatens many species. In 2021, Earth Overshoot Day (the date on which humanity has consumed all the resources that the planet is capable of generating in one year) will be on 29 July!

  4. Global changes, such as changes to our climate, atmospheric chemistry and major ecological systems, are the fourth greatest threat to biodiversity and reduce the Earth’s ability to sustain life.

  5. Pollution in all its forms: water, soil and even air pollution, but also light or sound pollution, which can affect a wide variety of living beings.

The red list of threatened species

The Red List drawn up by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) contains the most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biodiversity. Based on solid scientific foundations, this list is a valuable tool that identifies threatened animal and plant species: one in four mammal species, one in seven birds and one in three amphibians are threatened with global extinction.

Why should we be working to preserve biodiversity?

A loss of diversity that affects us all

But ultimately, is the loss of a few species a problem in itself? Can the disappearance of an insect or a herbaceous plant really have an impact on our day-to-day lives?

Each species in an ecosystem interacts with other life forms, whether directly or indirectly. An ecosystem can therefore be thought of as a huge network, where each living being is connected to the others by a thread. When one thread breaks, the tremors will destabilise the species that are directly linked to it, but they will also have a greater or lesser impact on those that interact with it indirectly.

The more diverse an ecosystem is, the more resilient it is to disruption. Scientists refer to this concept as ecosystem resilience. An environment that is disrupted by the destruction of natural habitats, by pollution or by climate change is not very resilient and its biodiversity may suffer.

So yes, even the loss of a few species can have serious consequences for human populations around the world and affect all of our lives.

The many services that nature provides

Every day, biodiversity provides us with many services. We all know the essential role of the bee in the pollination process or the production of honey. However, ecosystem services are much broader and contribute a huge amount to our survival and well-being in many different ways.

There are 4 main categories of ecosystem services:

  • The basic ones that support the smooth running of the ecosystem, such as oxygen production, soil formation, the water cycle etc.

  • Provisioning services, which relate to drinking water, raw materials, energy, medicines etc.

  • Regulating services, which refer to the resources generated by the environment to combat disruption such as CO2 storage, flood protection, climate regulation etc.

  • The so-called cultural services, which represent all the leisure, educational and spiritual activities made possible by biodiversity

Then what? Working with E-BIOM

Faced with this alarming fact, there are of course things that we can do. Preserving biodiversity is a major challenge that we all need to tackle. It is not too late, but we do need to act now at every level, both locally and globally. Whether you are responsible for a local community or a company, an architect or a landscape designer, a passionate naturalist, an experienced scientist or a member of the public who cares about the environment, E-BIOM will help you incorporate biodiversity into everything you do. By working at our own level, we can take practical action that will help maintain the diversity of life on Earth.