So you’ve heard the term ‘biodiversity’ but you’re not sure what it means and why it’s important? We’ve got you covered.
Biodiversity has been receiving increasing attention lately. You might have heard about the recent United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) in Montreal, which ended in December 2022 with a landmark agreement to guide global action on nature through to 2030.
To mark the International Day for Biological Diversity (22 May 2023), we thought that we’d take it back to basics and give you a crash course on biodiversity and the role it plays in our lives.
Here’s 10 fast facts to get you up to speed on biodiversity.
1.A simple definition is no easy task
Biodiversity is all the different kinds of life on Earth and how they work together. That’s a big thing to summarise.
It’s the variety of animals, plants, fungi, and bacteria that make up our natural world. Each of these species interact to form ecosystems and ecological communities, like an intricate web, to maintain balance and support life. Ultimately it’s what makes Earth, Earth.
Biodiversity is usually defined at 3 levels - genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem diversity. Here’s a handy explainer:
2. Biodiversity is essential to our everyday lives
Our ecosystems, including the variety of plants and animals within them, are vital for the health of the planet and for humanity to thrive. Think about the food you eat, the air you breathe and the materials that might be used to build homes (such as timber).
We may take these things for granted, but they’re only possible with good biodiversity. The food we eat is grown in soil that only exists because of other species, and it’s pollinated by them too. Healthy ecosystems ensure that our water supplies are clean. The carbon we produce is absorbed by trees and the ocean. The waste we throw away is decomposed by microbes and invertebrates, ready to begin the cycle all over again.
3. We need biodiversity to keep enjoying nature
Do you enjoy visiting our iconic national parks? Maybe you like to take a stroll along the beach on the weekend?
From parklands to oceans and reefs, wetlands and waterways, our natural spaces are intrinsic to our cultural identity as South Australians – healthy ecosystems are central to who we are. Spending time in nature is also vital to our wellbeing and can even benefit our physical health.
Biodiversity maintains these natural areas, providing spaces for physical activity, opportunities for restoration and relaxation, and for socialising with friends and family.
4. Our economy relies on biodiversity
South Australia’s biodiversity underpins billions of dollars of our state’s economy. It supports the continued success of our food, wine, tourism and agricultural sectors, allowing them to produce a wide range of food and fibre products to feed, house and clothe people in hundreds of countries around the world.
5. We can learn a lot from First Nations Australians
First Nations Australians have a spiritual connection with the environment, animals and living things and have been caring for Country for more than 50,000 years.
This traditional knowledge provides important understanding of our ecosystems, along with unique and valuable insights into biodiversity and how we can live with nature. We can learn a lot from First Nations Australians about caring for Country in a sustainable way.
Programs including park co-management work to bring together traditional Aboriginal knowledge and contemporary park management perspectives on the importance of looking after land.
6. We’re facing a crisis
Biodiversity is under threat. Global research that estimates 1 million species are threatened with extinction.
Closer to home, Australia is recognised as having the highest mammal extinction rate in the world. As of 2019, more than 1,100 of South Australia’s native plant and animal species are threatened with extinction.
Those are some concerning numbers, but even losing one species can have cascading impacts. It might be harder to see, but the extinction of one species affects the microbes that may have lived inside it, the plants that relied on it for pollination and seed dispersal, and the other species that ate it, as well as the plants and/or animals that it may have consumed. They have all lost a crucial component in the web of life.
7. Humans are causing the problem
The major causes of biodiversity loss are actually human-led activities, including:
8. There are efforts to protect and restore biodiversity in South Australia
A range of actions are underway to protect, restore and support biodiversity in South Australia. Through habitat restoration, revegetation and the re-introducing native species, projects like Bounceback, Back From the Brink and the Mallee Woodland Birds project are working to conserve and restore environments and wildlife at risk.
Green Adelaide is undertaking a number of projects to enhance urban biodiversity, and the contribution nature makes to society, in metropolitan Adelaide.
The Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium’s South Australian Seed Conservation Centre has protected our unique plants having banked the seed of 82% of South Australia’s threatened species.
The Seed Conservation Centre is also working with schools and others across the state to save threatened South Australian plant species from extinction.
9. Biodiversity can help us tackle climate change
We often talk about climate change, but the loss of biodiversity should be considered equally important. Both issues are intrinsically linked and addressing (or ignoring) one will affect the other.
The impacts of climate change such as increased periods of drought or storms, bushfires and ocean acidification all negatively affect biodiversity. The changing climate can also benefit disease and invasive species, further impacting our native wildlife. All of these things can contribute to habitat loss and degradation, accelerating biodiversity loss.
Equally, biodiversity can actually help us to tackle climate change. Natural habitats, such as forests, wetlands and mangroves all assist in absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Protecting, conserving and even bolstering these natural spaces is not only critical for our wellbeing, but can allow us to adapt to a changing climate.
10. There’s more we can do
Global declines in biodiversity make it clear that we need to identify a new approach to our relationship with nature – one that ensures we can live sustainably.
Understanding the importance of biodiversity and the role it plays in your life is a great first step. You might even like to consider how you can improve biodiversity in your own backyard by planting local natives or by volunteering on environmental projects.
In South Australia, the government is committed to introducing a Biodiversity Act which will prioritise the protection and recovery of our biodiversity for the long-term. Importantly, this will be the state’s first dedicated biodiversity legislation.
While still in the initial planning phases, the community will be invited to provide feedback and help to shape its development in the latter part of 2023. You can sign-up to keep up-to-date on the development of the Biodiversity Act. From government to industries and individuals, all of us must to come together to address the challenges facing our biodiversity.
Want to read more about biodiversity? Check out how to use a Native Vegetation Heritage Agreement to protect biodiversity on your land and why butterflies are beneficial to the environment.