News / Science & Technology

Ecologists Call for Action on Biodiversity Loss

University of British Columbia ecologist Diane Srivastava, with a damselfly, an insect often used as an indicator species for estimating biodiversity and assessing ecosystem health. (T. Zulkoskey)
University of British Columbia ecologist Diane Srivastava, with a damselfly, an insect often used as an indicator species for estimating biodiversity and assessing ecosystem health. (T. Zulkoskey)
Rosanne Skirble
In advance of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janiero later this month, ecologists writing in the journal Nature are calling for renewed international efforts to curb the loss of biodiversity.  

The paper summarizes more than 1,000 ecological studies conducted since the first Earth Summit in Rio 20 years ago.  

Biodiversity loss impacts human health

Lead author and University of Michigan ecologist Bradley Cardinale says the 17 co-authors speak with a single voice: the loss of plant and animal diversity reduces the productivity and sustainability of earth’s ecosystems.

“And in many instances it decreases their ability to provide services like food. It decreases the ability of ecosystems to produce wood, fodder that would be used to feed our livestock. It reduces the ability of the ecosystems to protect us and our crops from certain kinds of pests and disease. And, it decreases the ability of nature to regulate certain aspects of our global climate.”
A researcher measures the productivity of algae in a stream. (Brad Cardinale)A researcher measures the productivity of algae in a stream. (Brad Cardinale)
x
A researcher measures the productivity of algae in a stream. (Brad Cardinale)
A researcher measures the productivity of algae in a stream. (Brad Cardinale)

On the other hand, Cardinale says, the evidence shows that genetic diversity increases the yield of commercial crops and enhances the production of wood in tree plantations. 

Forests with more tree species are more effective at absorbing carbon dioxide, a climate changing greenhouse gas. And, crops enhanced by genetic variation are better able to resist disease or attack by exotic species.

“We also know that the yield of fish out of our oceans tends to be more sustainable and stable through time, in fisheries that have a wide variety of fish species compared to parts of the ocean that don’t.”
    
Delicate balance

A bio-diverse ecosystem is often a delicate balance, and it doesn’t take much to upset it.  In her research, co-author Diane Srivastava has studied the cascading effects of extinction. In one experiment, the University of British Columbia ecologist removed the ecosystem’s top predator - a damsel fly larva - from a single bromeliad plant - with surprising results.

“We saw effects, of course, on the insects that that damsel fly larva consumed, which we expected," she says, "but what we didn’t expect is to see effects on the very tiny microscopic organisms that were consuming the dead leaves in the system, you know, a completely different part of the food web.”
Students measure ecosystem production in an estuary. (Emmett Duffy)Students measure ecosystem production in an estuary. (Emmett Duffy)
x
Students measure ecosystem production in an estuary. (Emmett Duffy)
Students measure ecosystem production in an estuary. (Emmett Duffy)

Cardinale says it is getting more difficult to sustain biodiversity, as more and more species go extinct. “But the real concern is that rates of extinction are about 1,000 times faster than what occurs naturally in the fossil record, and that rate of extinction is going up and the projection is if that rate continues we will be reaching the same level of the big five (earth) mass extinctions within about 250 to 400 years.”

The good news, Cardinale notes, is that we are not there yet.  There is still time to slow the loss of  biodiversity and protect the troves of animal and plant life that offer humans so much - from new ways of understanding the world and our place in it, to  miraculous new medicines and industrial materials. “If you essentially want to tell people how much species extinction is going to affect you - it’s going to affect your health or your pocketbook -we need to put a per dollar or per disease value on each species that goes extinct. And so the very obvious next step is translating these goods and services into economic value.”

Cardinale says that assessment is realistically about five years away.  

The report in the journal Nature directs a public warning to the international forum meeting in Rio that the loss of biodiversity is having a direct impact on human health and prosperity.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More