What is biodiversity? Biodiversity literally means “variety of life.” It’s a scientific way to explain the many thousands of animal and plant species that live on our planet, and the millions of years it took for them to evolve. Biodiversity is found in all ecosystems across land, air, and sea – from tropical rainforests to deserts, and everything in between.
Biodiversity is also called “nature,” and its value to humankind cannot be understated. From the food we eat, the water we drink, and even the oxygen we breathe – all can be traced back directly or indirectly to biodiversity and ecosystems. But there’s another less well-known benefit: biodiversity is a driving force behind regulating Earth’s climate.
The Stability of the Ecosystem
In order for biodiversity to control climate, all organisms must play a role in maintaining the stability of an ecosystem. In other words, they all have a part to play in keeping the system from entering a new state – whether hotter or colder. Each species must maintain its own place in the ecosystem’s “energy flow and nutrient cycling” and be available for predators and prey (food) to eat.
If biodiversity is lowered, however, certain species might become extinct too soon – leaving their particular roles unfilled. The system would then do one of two things: either shift into a new state (too hot or too cold) or become destabilized. If this happens, species might begin migrating to another area of the earth. This could potentially cause enormous problems for humans who rely on certain ecosystems to live in.
For example, if a species of the tree dies out before it is able to reproduce, there’s no way for the seeds it produces to be dispersed. More importantly, there’s no way for water to be released from the leaves during the process of photosynthesis. If biodiversity is low enough, this could lead to a change in an ecosystem that contributes to climate change – either too hot or too cold.
Regulating Climate Change
According to the article ” The Diverse Effects of Biodiversity on Ecosystem Function,” written by 13 scientists from around the world, there are at least four major ways that biodiversity contributes to regulating climate change.
Higher CO2 in the Atmosphere – “The diversity and abundance of vegetation is regulated in part by soil biotas such as mycorrhizal fungi and various invertebrates. These organisms help to mobilize and cycle nutrients and thereby influence the transfer of carbon from plant litter back to soils, where it can be sequestered for up to thousands of years. When soil biota are lost through land degradation, this cycle breaks down and large quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2) may remain in the atmosphere instead of being sequestered by vegetation.”
Prevention of Deserts
“Desertification, the expansion of arid regions in semi-arid areas and drylands, is a process that can be prevented by maintaining biodiversity. In fact, up to 15% of the carbon stored in soil may be lost for every 1°C increase in temperature. Therefore prevention of desertification must be considered as a strategy for minimizing CO2 release from soil.”