I wanted to touch on the importance of preserving biodiversity, which is literally the diversity of life. From a taxonomical perspective, biologists have identified approximately 1.8 million species on Earth and estimates are that between 80 and 90 percent of the actual total remain undiscovered or unnamed. (IUCN 2009) Yet biodiversity is in dire peril. According to the UN Environment Program and many other members of the scientific biological community 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours.
The Earth’s rich biological heritage of species, communities, and ecosystems, which have evolved across millions of years, is rapidly deteriorating and in many instances irreversibly disappearing. In its most general sense, biodiversity refers to the combination of species that share a defined habitat to form a community. The study of ecology teaches that the species of a community continually interact both directly with one another and indirectly through their effect on the nonliving (abiotic) environment. For example, a native bee pollinating a flower supports biodiversity by facilitating services – fertilization for the plant, nutrition for the insect – that are essential for their survival and reproduction. Similarly, lichen may be the first species to colonize a rock outcropping, liberating mineral nutrients that enable others to become established. Each species within the biodiversity that shares a habitat contributes to the integrity and endurance of the community as a whole. More specifically, research strongly indicates that biodiversity promotes productivity, stability and resilience.
In general, communities with greater biodiversity generate more biomass (the combined weight of all organisms), are more resistant to environmental disturbances - such as drought, and bounce back more quickly after being affected by such disturbances. Mutualistic relationships, such as the exchange of nutrients that take place between mycorrhizal fungi in soil and vascular plants growing nearby, can more efficiently allocate resources and spur overall productivity. The value of biodiversity as an essential tool is important, from how food is grown to the management of gardens, lawns and landscapes, parks, forests and rights-of-way.
Chemical dependency in land management has resulted in organism resistance to synthetic chemicals and increasing costs to society in billions of dollars of crop loss, lost pollinators, water contamination, toxic cleanup and illness. (Tegtmeier and Duffy 2004; Pimentel 2005) Biodiversity is a foundational principle in the organization of communities at all levels, from a spade full of organically managed soil teeming with microbial life to a pasture seeded with grasses to a mature tropical rainforest. Biodiversity shapes the characteristics and capacities of every species and creates the conditions under which all living creatures interact and evolve. Decisions made to use toxic chemicals in land management or food choices in the grocery store every day are directly connected to the future of biodiversity, and the organic choice offers the brightest prospect for a sustainable future.
There are many ways in which we can contribute to preserving biodiversity and counteracting the threats to the biological communities that support life on our living Earth. Conservation biologists have used the theory of island biogeography to develop strategies for preserving biodiversity. Small islands of habitat cannot support large predators, but they can provide refuges for smaller species, and many small islands can be strung together to support larger, mobile species. All of us can help by creating islands of biodiversity wherever we live. In land-based ecosystems, biodiversity begins with the soil. Recent science has shown that J.I. Rodale and other organic pioneers were right – the soil is a living organism, and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides do kill the soil. The growth of all plants that we see above ground – from lettuce seedlings to redwood trees – results from a symbiosis between the plants and the fungi, bacteria, insects and other soil dwelling organisms.
The foremost method for building biodiversity in the soil is composting (growing soil). Composting breaks down organic matter, while growing the organisms necessary for a healthy food web. Soil life creates soil structure and nutrients. A diverse soil food web maintains a balance that controls disease. Will our personal efforts at growing biodiversity be enough? Probably not by themselves but our efforts can be significant. By building biodiversity in small places (beginning in our own backyards), we increase the resilience of biological communities (of which we are a part).
May we bring our practice into the world and joyfully together regenerate our community. See you at the practice center.