What is Biodiversity?
Biodiversity refers to the whole range of life on earth from micro fungi to large mammals and how they interact with each other to support life on our planet. Earth’s “Ecosystem Services” are valued at inestimable trillions of rand per annum and provide the basis for all life and economic activity. Bacteria and fungi make the soil fertile and break down wastes; insects, birds and bats pollinate plants; trees, grasses, plants and bacteria clean the air and purify our water systems. Most of these services we take for granted but a loss of biodiversity will lead to a decline in their ability to sustain the production of food, clean water and clean air. Humanity’s future depends on healthy ecosystems.
The ICUN Red List 2009 statistics indicate that a minimum of 16928 species are threatened with extinction.
· Human over-population and human activities are the largest risk to 99% of the threatened species.
· Habitat loss and degradation are the greatest threat. Since 2000 six million hectares of primary forest have been lost each year. The pressures on biodiversity have intensified with increased demand for agricultural land, food and energy crops, and also urban development.
· Introduction of alien species, intentional and unintentional, has negative ecological consequences. The alien species are often highly competitive and spread quickly, reducing the habitat of endemic species. A case in point is the rabbits on Robben Island which had to be culled.
· Over-exploitation, for example the over-harvesting of fish species.
· Pollution of the air, water and soil.
· Human-induced climate change makes it impossible for certain organisms, plants and animals to survive, alters the patterns of migratory species and bleaches corals.
· Genetically Modified Crops cause genetic pollution of wild and naturally hybridised varieties. Monocropping and use of pesticides and artificial fertilisers are part of the GMO farming system. Indigenous breeds become disused because they are thought to be unprofitable and coupled with the genetic pollution, this leads to the collapse of gene pools of wild and indigenous breeds. This could result in a severe threat to food security as the genetic material which would enable us to hybridise crops and livestock more resistant to climate change and disease would be lost. Crop diversity is necessary to help the system recover when a dominant crop type is attacked by disease. The Irish Potato Blight disaster of 1846 was the result of planting only 2 varieties of potato and led to the deaths of a million people and the migration of another million.
· Effect of cell phone radiation and electromagnetic communication systems on bees: this is causing bees and other flying creatures to become disorientated and has resulted in bees deserting the hive, leaving the queen and immature bees behind. The bees cannot survive without a queen. Colony collapse disorder has left beekeepers and agriculture facing ruin in parts of the U.S.A., Europe and Britain. Human beings cannot mimic the pollination activity carried out by bees. Studies are being carried out on this threat in South Africa at the moment.
What can we, as ordinary individuals, do?
· Reducing the use of pesticides and artificial fertilisers is of major importance in saving diversity.
· Use compost and natural fertilisers which feed the soil and the organisms in it.
· Support farmers who use organic methods and practise crop diversity.
· Don’t buy GMO products.
· Support the preservation of rural land, reintroduction of indigenous species and removal of invasive alien species (which we are trying to do in a small way along the Moreletaspruit).
· Only eat sustainably harvested fish. SMS the name of the fish you intend to buy to the SASSI number 079 499 8795 to find out whether it is on the green list.
· Eat less meat. The current rate of meat consumption is unsustainable and contributes to climate change. Annually 50 billion litres of water go down the drain during the slaughtering process in South Africa. This is double the annual amount of drinking water required for the entire South African population. Ten kg of grain is fed to cattle to produce one kg of beef. Meat production is the biggest producer of greenhouse gases in the world.
· Remove alien invasive species from your gardens
· Plant indigenous trees and flowers to attract birds and insects. Here is a list of trees which belong in our area: Acacia caffra, Common hook thorn; Acacia karroo, Sweet thorn; Acacia zieberiana, Paper bark; Buddleia saligna, White olive wood; Carissa bispinosa,Num num berry; Celtis Africana, White stinkwood; Combretum erythrophyllum, River bush willow; Diospyros lycioides, Blue bush; Dombeya rotundifolia, Common wild pear; Ehretia rigida, Puzzle bush; Grewia occidentalis, Cross berry; Maytenus heterophylla, Common spike thorn; Olea europea subsp africana, African olive; Rhamnus prinoides, Dogwood; Searsia (Rhus) lancea, Karee; Searsia (Rhus) pyroides, Common currant; Ziziphus mucronata, Buffalo thorn.
· Reduce: buy only what you need in the way of products, water, fuel and electricity. This will mean less rubbish in the landfill sites and less emission of greenhouse gases.
· Re-use where you can: e.g. plant seeds in used egg boxes and then plant the individual egg cups once the seedlings are big enough. The cardboard will break down eventually in the soil.
· Recycle: take all paper, tins, plastic, batteries and computers to Moreleta Superspar, cor Rubenstein and Garsfontein Roads. Mondi collects paper and cardboard every second Thursday. Donate unwanted items to charities such as Hospice.
Biodiversity or biological diversity is the variation of taxonomic life forms within a given ecosystem, biome or for the entire Earth. Biodiversity is often a measure of the health of biological systems to indicate the degree to which the aggregate of historical species are viable versus extinct.
Even if we begin with only a few changes it will make a difference. The important thing is the mind shift that occurs once we start to change our behaviour and become aware of the effects that our activities have on climate change and the conservation of biodiversity.
(For an Encyclopaedia on Biodiversity see the links page.)