Why is biodiversity important?
Think about how many species exist. Most likely well over 5 million. Now think about how much information about those species we do not yet understand. We do not know what we can learn from them.
Human beings benefit in many ways from biodiversity. Biodiversity has direct economic benefits. It also provides services to entire ecosystems.
Economic Benefits of Biodiversity
The diversity of species provides humans with a wide range of economic benefits:
- Wild plants and animals maintain a valuable pool of genetic variation. This is important because domestic species are genetically uniform. This puts them at great risk of dying out due to disease.
- Other organisms provide humans with many different products. Timber, fibers, adhesives, dyes, and rubber are just a few.
- Certain species may warn us of toxins in the environment. When the peregrine falcon nearly went extinct, for example, it warned us of the dangers of DDT.
- More than half of the most important prescription drugs come from wild species. Only a fraction of species have yet been studied for their medical potential.
- Other living things provide inspiration for engineering and technology. For example, the car design in Figure below was based on a fish.
From flowers to fish, biodiversity benefits humans in many ways.
Ecosystem Services of Biodiversity
Biodiversity generally increases the productivity and stability of ecosystems. It helps ensure that at least some species will survive environmental change. It also provides many other ecosystem services. For example:
- Plants and algae maintain the atmosphere. During photosynthesis, they add oxygen and remove carbon dioxide.
- Plants help prevent soil erosion. They also improve soil quality when they decompose.
- Microorganisms purify water in rivers and lakes. They also return nutrients to the soil.
- Bacteria fix nitrogen and make it available to plants. Other bacteria recycle the nitrogen from organic wastes and remains of dead organisms.
- Insects and birds pollinate flowering plants, including crop plants.
- Natural predators control insect pests. They reduce the need for expensive pesticides, which may harm people and other living things.
- Biodiversity has direct economic benefits. It also provides services to entire ecosystems.
Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.
- Why is biodiversity an "essential natural resource"?
- How have humans threatened biodiversity?
- Distinguish between a threatened and endangered species.
1. List three economic benefits of biodiversity.
2. Identify ecosystem services of biodiversity.
3. Predict what would happen to other organisms in an ecosystem in which all the decomposers went extinct?