Biodiversity? Who needs it?

Give something a name and it is almost at once compromised. This is an interesting exercise to observe as differing understandings are applied to the new entity. In a short time someone’s really good idea can be wholly or partially lost in confusion and misunderstanding. I sometimes ponder whether this has happened to a major outcome of Rio One, the preservation of Biodiversity.

Biodiversity is, on a grand scale, the gross number of species on the planet and scaled down that rule applies to individual eco-system locations – from the back of your hand to the Masai-Mara. It is also used as a guide to the potential flexibility of response of an area to environmental change. With the recent ever increasing count of species lost it is regarded as a measure of increasing environmental damage – a kind of MEI, mass extinction index.

But do we need it? Is it now just an academic ploy or a career support move – it certainly has an image which allows almost infinite backing for its necessity, its continuous estimation and the extension of its usage.

A zoo is biodiverse, as is a well stocked garden, but do either have ongoing significance?  At time of disaster the zoo is lost with all its resident species, most of whom are unable even to return to their environment of origin let alone prosper in a wholly new and alien one. (Yeah, I’ve watched “Madagascar”, which actually emphasizes my points.)

A garden is full of beauty but, even now, leave it untended for a few seasons and most of its variety is lost – tender perennials killed by frosts, demanding annuals’ seed lost over winter, moisture loving species killed off by droughts or just short absence of rainfall and, of course, all the meek, fussy cultivars crowded out by resurgent endemic specie, aka weeds!

So the far better objective is “Natural biodiversity” or “Ecosystem specific biodiversity” or “Valid ecosystem derived biodiversity”.

Sustainable biodiversity.

Stable or supported biodiversity.

Inherent biodiversity.

Integral, system biodiversity related to and drawn from the edaphic and climatic characteristics of the environment with species observed at or after ecological climax communities  are achieved.

Otherwise it’s an unrepresentative and non adaptable waste of time. As I said above, a zoo has little or no worth as biological insurance. So how much of our “conservation management” is simply zoo-tending or merely gardening and so maintaining superfluous accumulations of a largely irrelevant and misleading “biodiversity”? Extend this also to agricultural land given spurious grant subsidies for ecological custodianship and we complete the picture of a vast wedge of complacency predicated on support of irrelevant environmental associations, all of which are resultant from huge human intervention  and, thus,  unsustainable.

In fact, although we are indeed losing species at an alarming rate, there is strong evidence that total global biodiversity is at an all time high. (Richard Leakey, in “The Sixth Extinction”, spent a good while discussing this.) There can be no doubt that adaptation and evolution are continuous processes and that human development has placed intensive evolutionary pressure on the planet’s ecosystems for many thousands of years. Yes, the last fifty years have seen a significant increase in that pressure but, for example, we had already cleared nigh on half the global forest by the start of the twentieth century (Prof Michael Williams, Oxford University, 2003 “Deforesting the Earth: from prehistory to global
crisis”, University of Chicago Press, Chicago;  Prof William Ruddiman, “Plows, Plagues and Petroleum”, Princeton University Press), and driven many species to extinction. (Leakey, again!)

We do not know the nature of the sudden changes in climatic conditions which may ensue and wreak havoc upon our collective ecosystems. As “global warming” wisely morphed into “climate change” because the outcomes of increased atmospheric energy stores are seemingly many and varied  – right through to “The Day after Tomorrow”, though I personally see little chance of that particular scenario anytime soon!

So all these protected artificialities will be poor foundation for any resurgence as they are usually isolated and “preserved in aspic”, British National Trust style, with only slight resemblance to natural, climax communities. Some of their compositional species may pull through but most will be lost in a very short time if us gardeners go off on holiday!

Biodiversity only has merit within a healthy, natural fluid environment. Thus our emphasis should be to retain and construct such systems rather than concentrate on species collection and counting. I best heard this summarized by the wondrous buffoon Professor David Bellamy, interviewed on the radio in 1998. In a gushing confidence he stated:

“A healthy environment maintains its own biodiversity”.

Wish I’d said it first – I’ve used it ever since!


I just want to add something on the concept of a “Sustainability Index” as being a translation of a biodiversity measurement. Well, that’s it really, as in each described ecology can be ascribed an SI derived from assessment of its biodiversity but with a “fudge factor” relating to:
1 – Size of the system.
2 – Natural/undisturbed nature of the environment.(including overspill from adjacent regions).
3 – Interconnectedness with other natural, stable ecologies.

So a high SI would be reduced by being a small site or including non-native species or system management (like GM farming, for example, but actually all forms of agriculture will have a negative impact on SI). Contiguity (if that’s a word!) to other high SI ecologies would, of course, impact in a positive manner on SI.


About greencentre

Non grant supported hence independent scientist, green activist, writer and forest planter.
This entry was posted in Biodiversity, Development issues, Ecology, Green politics,, Land use, New forests and woodland, Sheep and cattle farming. Bookmark the permalink.

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