Posted on: February 6, 2020 at 9:05 am
Last updated: May 26, 2020 at 10:21 pm

Biodiversity refers to the variety of life at all levels on Earth, from genes to ecosystems. It includes every living thing, from humans right down to microbes, fungi, and invertebrates. It is essential to the continuation of life on Earth and provides value to humans as a source of food, fuel, and medicine. Crucial activities, such as pollination, seed dispersal, climate regulation, water purification, nutrient cycling, and control of agricultural pests are also provided by the Earth’s ecosystems [1].

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Humans’ Effect on Biodiversity

Over the last century, the Earth’s ecosystems have undergone rapid change, and there has been a massive loss of biodiversity due to human activity. 

In a report published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), researchers have determined that over the past few millennia, humans have caused the extinction of 83 percent of all wild mammals and half of all plants [2,3].

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The Biomass of Humans

This statistic is shocking because humanity’s catastrophic impact is in great disproportion to the tiny percentage of life on earth the humans actually make up. The study, which is the first of its kind to create a comprehensive estimate of the weight of every class of living creature on the planet, determined that the world’s human population of 7.6 billion people represent only 0.01 percent of all living things [2,3].

Bacteria, on the other hand, make up thirteen percent, while plants account for a total of 83 percent of all life on earth.

“I would hope this gives people a perspective on the very dominant role that humanity now plays on Earth,” said Professor Ron Milo, at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, who led the work [3].

Humans Deciding Who Stays and Who Goes

One of the key findings of the study was not just that humans are causing groups of animals and plants to go extinct, but they’re also determining which ones remain. The researchers found that 70 percent of all birds remaining on Earth are poultry chickens or other farmed birds. 60 percent of mammals left are livestock, and 36 percent are pigs, leaving only four percent as wild animals [2,4].

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The populations of marine mammals, on the other hand, have dropped by 80 percent [2,4].

“When I do a puzzle with my daughters, there is usually an elephant next to a giraffe next to a rhino,” said Milo. “But if I was trying to give them a more realistic sense of the world, it would be a cow next to a cow next to a cow and then a chicken.” [4]

The Impact of Agriculture on Biodiversity

Agriculture is the largest contributor to biodiversity loss because of growing global populations and changing consumption patterns. It converts natural habitats into tightly monitored monoculture systems and releases pollutants and greenhouse gasses into the ecosystem [5].

Much of the effort that has gone into reducing the food system’s toll on biodiversity has focused on intensifying agriculture in order to free up land for protection, however recent research has suggested that a more effective approach is to focus on biodiversity-friendly farming over a larger area [5].

Climate Change and Biodiversity

Climbing global temperatures, rising sea levels, and intensifying storms are forcing many animals out of their habitats to find new places to live. Researchers at the University of East Anglia in Norfolk, UK, and James Cook University in Australia, have estimated that at this rate, up to half of the geographical ranges for tens of thousands of animals could be lost by the year 2100 [6,7].

Their findings were based on the current pace of Global Warming, which is an expected increase in global temperature by 3.2 degrees over pre-industrial levels by the same year [6,8].

Scientists are now saying that the planet may now be facing its sixth mass extinction.

“The resulting biological annihilation obviously will have serious ecological, economic and social consequences,” they conclude the report. “Humanity will eventually pay a very high price for the decimation of the only assemblage of life that we know of in the universe.” [9,10]

Read: Think It’s Hot Where You Are?

What Can Be Done?

For starters, the authors explain, band-aid solutions like creating wildlife preserves, enacting tougher environmental regulations, and restoring ecosystems need to implement. These, however, are not lasting solutions.

Since, according to the authors, the primary driver of this disintegration of life is human overpopulation and consumption, these are the key areas that need to be changed. Human consumption needs to decrease to more manageable levels, and eventually, we must reach a peak in human population [9].

Milo has made changes to his consumption patterns because of the effects of agriculture on the environment.

“I would hope people would take this [work] as part of their world view of how they consume,” he said. ”I have not become vegetarian, but I do take the environmental impact into my decision making, so it helps me think, do I want to choose beef or poultry or use tofu instead?” [3]

The numbers these studies have reported are staggering, but if we take global action we can still protect the biodiversity we have left.

Keep Reading:

Global Warming Is Apparently Causing Diseases in Ice to Come to Life

Desert Farm Grows 17,000 Tons of Food without Soil, Pesticides, Fossil Fuels or Groundwater

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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