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Special Content


volume-12, 22 - 28 June 2019

Understanding Basics of Environment – III

Shreya Bhattacharya

In this article, we will discuss about Biodiversity, one of the most important concepts of Environment. Biodiversity is a shortened form of two words 'biological' and 'diversity'. It refers to all the variety of life that can be found on Earth (plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms) as well as to the communities that they form and the habitats in which they live. It is often understood in terms of the wide variety of plants, animals and micro-organisms, the genes they contain and the ecosystem they form. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, which was held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, defined "biodiversity" as

"The variability among living organisms from all sources, including, 'inter alia', terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part: this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems."

Biodiversity plays a very important role in the lives of people all over the world, serving as a source of food, medicines and many other materials needed to sustain human life. It is considered as three major levels:

  1. Genetic Diversity: It can be defined as "the variation in the amount of genetic information within and among individuals of a population, a species, an assemblage, or a community." Genetic Diversity within a population refers to the variation in the amount of genetic information within and among individuals of a population, a species, an assemblage, or a community. Genetic diversity is significant as more is the genetic diversity in a population, the more likely that one of those genes will prove helpful in the face of threats such as climate change or a new disease. This diversity is related to the ability of a species to adapt to a changing environment. Genetic diversity also drives natural selection. According to English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) in his theory of evolution, species whose genes adapt best to the environment they find themselves in are more likely to survive. They will leave more offspring and the next generation will have more individuals with that particular genetic makeup. Genetic diversity has given rise to 1.7 million known species around the world, most of which are insects. The genetic diversity of a particular habitat depends upon the nature of the environment, including factors such as climate and availability of food and other natural resources.
  2. Species Biodiversity: Species diversity reflects the magnitude of biological diversity in a specific ecological community. It represents species richness or the number of species found in an ecological community, the abundance or number of individuals per species, and the distribution or evenness of species. It also indicates health of specific ecosystems. A diverse and balanced number of species exist in a healthy ecosystem and maintain the equilibrium of the ecosystem. An ecosystem with poor species diversity may not function properly or efficiently. It is important to know about keystone species and invasive species.
  3. a) Keystone species: Keystone species are those which have very high impact on a particular ecosystem relative to its population. They are defined as, "a strongly interacting species whose top-down effect on species diversity and competition is large relative to its biomass dominance within a functional group." They play an important role, both in maintaining species diversity and the health of an ecosystem. A keystone species have been often a dominant predator whose removal allows a prey population to explode and often decreases overall diversity. The term has become popular in conservation efforts. For example, Cullenia trees are keystone species in south western ghat in India.
  4. b) Invasive Alien Species: An alien species is a species introduced outside its natural past or present distribution; if this species becomes problematic, it is termed an invasive alien species. They are the most common threat to amphibians, reptiles and mammals that are on the IUCN Red List.They may lead to changes in the structure and composition of ecosystems detrimentally affecting ecosystem services, human economy and wellbeing.Invasive species don't allow local species to grow and wildlife to move through. For example, invasive alien species like Lantana grows rapidly and create a mat-like structure leading to degradation and destruction of the biodiversity. As a result, herbivores like Gaur, Chital and Sambar are deprived of their food. This also affects the survival of carnivores such as tigers and panthers, interlinked to the ecological equilibrium.

3) Ecosystem Diversity: Ecosystems are the smallest unit of a living system which is functionally independent. They have four main elements - biotic, abiotic, interactions of energy flows, and a physical space in which to operate. Ecosystem diversity is the variety of different ecosystems within an area. An area with three different ecosystems (say tundra, temperate grasslands, and temperate forests) has greater ecosystem diversity than the same size area with only two ecosystems (say temperate grasslands and forests).

Major Threats to Biodiversity

Biodiversity is under serious threat as a result of anthropogenic activities. The negative impacts of human actions have become so great that we are losing biodiversity more quickly now than at any other time in earth's recent history. According to latest studies, more than 36 percent of 47,000 species are threatened with extinction. Scientists have claimed that because of the current rate of biodiversity loss the earth is currently experiencing a sixth major extinction event, one greater than that which resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs. The past extinction eventswere caused by natural disasters and planetary changes; however, this one is being driven by human actions.Human activities have become main threats to biodiversity in the form of population growth, climate change, global warming, habitat loss, urbanisation, invasive alien species, over-exploitation of natural resources, industrialisation and environmental degradation. Here is the list of main threats to biodiversity and their causes:

 

Main threats

Some underlying causes

Threats in terrestrial areas

Degradation, destruction and fragmentation of natural habitats

Spread of the urbanised areas, road network and industrial areas  and Associated problems (noise, pollution); abandon of former agricultural practices that were favourable to biodiversity

Decrease in the capacity of the agricultural areas to host wildlife

Intensification of agricultural practices (yielding pollution and disturbance) and disappearance of landscape elements that provide food and shelter that are exploitable by wildlife (such as hedges, trees, ponds, etc.)

Pollution of soils, air and water

Excess of heavy metals (industry, roads), manure and pesticides (agriculture) and other pollutants

Invasions by alien species

International trade and transport (roads, railways, rivers), gardening practices, exotic trees in forestry, exotic pests released in the wild, climate change, etc.

Epidemics affecting wildlife

Arrivals of pathogens that are favoured by the introduction of exotic species, pollution and the destruction of habitats

Climate change

Carbon emissions, deforestation and other land use changes due to human activities

Dessication of soils and wetlands

Excess pumping of underground water tables

Recreation and leisure

Recreation and leisure areas, little respect for nature, mountain biking and motor sports in fragile areas, dogs not on leash

Threats in marine areas

Overfishing and decline of species

Industrial fishing, overexploitation of target species, by-catch species

Pollution and eutrophication

Land-based activities (river run-off), atmospheric deposition, maritime traffic

Degradation and destruction of the sea floor

Beam trawling, dredging, sand and gravel extraction

Alien species introductions

Maritime trade (ballast waters, fouling), leisure navigation, mariculture, climate change

Leisure and tourism

Coastal development, water quality in summer (high population), mechanical beach cleaning, noise and other perturbations due to the high population

                                                (Source: www.biodiv.be)

Convention on Biological Diversity

A major step forward in the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources, is the Convention on Biological Diversity, or CBD. It is an international agreement adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, or the Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro, in 1992. The Convention entered into force on 29 December 1993. It showed the world community's growing commitment to sustainable development. It has three main objectives: a) to conserve biological diversity

  1. b) To use its components in a sustainable way and
  2. c) To share fairly and equitably the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.

Cartagena Protocol

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international treaty governing the movements of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology from one country to another. It was adopted on 29 January 2000 as a supplementary agreement to the Convention on Biological Diversity and entered into force on 11 September 2003. The objective of this Protocol is to contribute to ensuring an adequate level of protection in the field of the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health, and specifically focusing on transboundary movements.

Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-sharing

The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international agreement which aims at sharing the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources in a fair and equitable way. It was adopted on 29 October 2010 in Nagoya, Japan, and entered into force on 12 October 2014. It provides a transparent legal framework for the effective implementation of one of the three objectives of the CBD: the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources. The Nagoya Protocol applies to genetic resources that are covered by the CBD, and to the benefits arising from their utilisation. The Nagoya Protocol also covers traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources that are covered by the CBD and the benefits arising from its utilisation.

Aichi Biodiversity Targets

Aichi Biodiversity Targets were adopted during the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan, in October 2010. The Targets provide an innovative and visionary approach that integrates biodiversity with social and economic drivers at the heart of the problem, and thus the key to the solution. Five strategic goals and twenty ambitiou stargets, collectively known as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets have been adopted by the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity as part of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020

Strategic Goal A: Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society

Strategic Goal B: Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use

Strategic Goal C: To improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity

Strategic Goal D: Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services

Strategic Goal E: Enhance implementation through partici-patory planning, knowledge management and capacity building

Strategic Goal A: Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society

Target 1

By 2020, at the latest, people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.

Target 2

By 2020, at the latest, biodiversity values have been integrated into national and local development and poverty reduction strategies and planning processes and are being incorporated into national accounting, as appropriate, and reporting systems.

Target 3

By 2020, at the latest, incentives, including subsidies, harmful to biodiversity are eliminated, phased out or reformed in order to minimize or avoid negative impacts, and positive incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity are developed and applied, consistent and in harmony with the Convention and other relevant international obligations, taking into account national socio economic conditions.

Target 4

By 2020, at the latest, Governments, business and stakeholders at all levels have taken steps to achieve or have implemented plans for sustainable production and consumption and have kept the impacts of use of natural resources well within safe ecological limits.

Strategic Goal B: Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use

Target 5

By 2020, the rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests, is at least halved and where feasible brought close to zero, and degradation and fragmentation is significantly reduced.

Target 6

By 2020 all fish and invertebrate stocks and aquatic plants are managed and harvested sustainably, legally and applying ecosystem based approaches, so that overfishing is avoided, recovery plans and measures are in place for all depleted species, fisheries have no significant adverse impacts on threatened species and vulnerable ecosystems and the impacts of fisheries on stocks, species and ecosystems are within safe ecological limits.

Target 7

By 2020 areas under agriculture, aquaculture and forestry are managed sustainably, ensuring conservation of biodiversity.

Target 8

By 2020, pollution, including from excess nutrients, has been brought to levels that are not detrimental to ecosystem function and biodiversity.

Target 9

By 2020, invasive alien species and pathways are identified and prioritized, priority species are controlled or eradicated, and measures are in place to manage pathways to prevent their introduction and establishment.

Target 10

By 2015, the multiple anthropogenic pressures on coral reefs, and other vulnerable ecosystems impacted by climate change or ocean acidification are minimized, so as to maintain their integrity and functioning.

Strategic Goal C: To improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity

Target 11

By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes.

Target 12

By 2020 the extinction of known threatened species has been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in decline, has been improved and sustained.

Target 13

By 2020, the genetic diversity of cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals and of wild relatives, including other socio-economically as well as culturally valuable species, is maintained, and strategies have been developed and implemented for minimizing genetic erosion and safeguarding their genetic diversity.

Strategic Goal D: Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services

Target 14

By 2020, ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, are restored and safeguarded, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable.

Target 15

By 2020, ecosystem resilience and the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks has been enhanced, through conservation and restoration, including restoration of at least 15 per cent of degraded ecosystems, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation and to combating desertification.

Target 16

By 2015, the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization is in force and operational, consistent with national legislation.

Strategic Goal E: Enhance implementation through partici-patory planning, knowledge management and capacity building

Target 17

By 2015 each Party has developed, adopted as a policy instrument, and has commenced implementing an effective, participatory and updated national biodiversity strategy and action plan.

Target 18

By 2020, the traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and their customary use of biological resources, are respected, subject to national legislation and relevant international obligations, and fully integrated and reflected in the implementation of the Convention with the full and effective participation of indigenous and local communities, at all relevant levels.

Target 19

By 2020, knowledge, the science base and technologies relating to biodiversity, its values, functioning, status and trends, and the consequences of its loss, are improved, widely shared and transferred, and applied.

Target 20

By 2020, at the latest, the mobilization of financial resources for effectively implementing the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 from all sources, and in accordance with the consolidated and agreed process in the Strategy for Resource Mobilization, should increase substantially from the current levels. This target will be subject to changes contingent to resource needs assessments to be developed and reported by Parties.

Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO)

Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO) is a periodic report on the latest status and trends of biodiversity across the globe. It is published by the Convention on Biological Diversity. There have been four editions of the Global Biodiversity Outlook and the fifth edition will be launched in May 2020. Its fourth and the latest edition was released during the 12th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) in Pyeongchang, Korea in October, 2014. The report draws on various sources of information to provide a mid-term assessment of progress towards the implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, discussed during COP-12.

(The author is a Mumbai based journalist, e-mail is shreyabh. journo@gmail.com)

Views expressed are personal.

(Image Courtesy : Google)