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

Israelis Quietly Expand Enclave in Palestinian District of Jerusalem

Estimated 500 settlers, armed or protected by paramilitary police, live in Silwan among 50,000 Palestinians More

Video US, Iran Face Similar Challenges in Syrian Fight Against IS

Both Washington, Tehran back fighters battling Islamic State militants in Iraq -- but in Syria they support opposing sides in country’s civil war More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Lawi
X
William Ide
October 20, 2014 10:23 AM
China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Nigeria Agrees to Cease-Fire With Boko Haram

Islamist militant group Boko Haram and the Nigerian government have agreed to a cease-fire. The Nigerian government issued an order Friday, telling all military chiefs "to comply with the cease-fire agreement in all theaters of operations. Why now and the significance of the agreement are questions on some people’s minds. VOA's Mariama Diallo reports.
Video

Video Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

The offensive by Islamic State militants against the northern Syrian city of Kobani has caused hundreds of thousands of residents to flee to Turkey. They receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from the town of Suruc a few kilometers from the border.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.

All About America

AppleAndroid