By Dr. Kristin Drexler
Faculty Member, School of STEM
Happy International Day for Biodiversity! To recognize biodiversity and promote healthy ecosystems, we celebrate International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22 each year. The theme for 2021 is: “We’re part of the solution #ForNature.”
Ratified by 196 nations and proclaimed by the United Nations on December 20, 2000, according to the Convention on Biological Diversity, this is a day dedicated to making sure that Earth remains a place where all living organisms can not only survive, but also thrive. It’s a day to raise awareness and understanding of the importance of biodiversity and its conservation and sustainable use and “fair and equitable sharing of the benefits.”
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this day will be celebrated with online campaigns found on social media sites:
What Is Biodiversity and Why Is It Important to Conserve?
Biological diversity, also known as “biodiversity,” is simply the number and variability of living organizations (species or subspecies) in a given area. Biodiversity is important for the planet’s health and our own survival as a human species.
However, biodiversity has been significantly reduced by some human activities, so it is important that we care and act to protect biodiversity. Biodiversity is considered by international groups, including the United Nations, as one of the top global goals.
Biodiversity dictates how an ecosystem functions and the services it provides. An example of an ecosystem is a tropical coral reef or the Amazon rainforest – or a single tree within the Amazon rainforest. Ecosystems are where living organisms survive and thrive.
Ecosystem services are the benefits to humans from the natural environment, such as include clean air and water, climate regulation, and crop pollinations. According to the JoVE Journal, “Ecosystems are made up of many working parts, including primary producers, herbivores, carnivores, and detritivores, all of which contribute to ecosystem function. If species are lost, the ecosystem may collapse. And if the ecosystem collapses, the services that it provides to humans will as well.”
Biodiversity Provides Value to Humans
We should remember that humans are a part of (not apart from) Earth’s ecosystems and have a role to play in conserving the biodiversity within them. Presently, there are anthropogenic (human-caused or human-exacerbated) threats to biodiversity, including pollution, climate change, land use conversion (i.e., converting forests to farmland).
The United Nations recognizes that in addition to these threats, other human conditions such as poverty, food security, gender inequity, and lack of educational attainment are important factors in sustaining biodiversity and healthy ecosystems.
The benefits of biodiversity and healthy ecosystems are integrated and intertwined with our socioecological system, such as human health, economy and culture. So, in this way, biodiversity and healthy ecosystems have anthropomorphic value – or value to humans. Biodiversity also has intrinsic value – a value in and of itself which is not dependent on the value to humans or other living organisms.
How Is Biodiversity Measured?
Biodiversity can be measured in different ways. Much like a camera zooms in and out to see smaller and larger scenes, biodiversity is measured at the genetic, species, community, and ecosystem levels.
According to the JoVE Journal, “One way to measure biodiversity is to assess species richness of an ecosystem, which is the total number of distinct species within a local community. While having many species generally coincides with having a diverse and healthy ecosystem, the evenness also needs to be considered. Evenness refers to the equality of the proportion of each species within an area or community…Therefore, areas with many species that are relatively equal in abundance have the highest values of biodiversity.”
Ecologists use sampling tools, including quadrats or transects, to measure biodiversity of an area. A quadrat is a randomly placed frame; species are counted within the quadrat as a sample of that area, instead of counting all the species in the larger area. Transects are tapes or lines (which quadrats can be placed at intervals) to ensure a semi-random sampling coverage to estimate biodiversity.
Global Forest Watch explains that measuring biodiversity is challenging because you need to conduct holistic assessments and study the complex interactions between species in an ecosystem in order to determine the level and quality of ecosystem services.
Several Academic Programs Deal with Biodiversity and Ecosystems
There are several graduate and undergraduate programs that promote the study of biodiversity, ecosystems and sustainability. For example, there are undergraduate academic programs such as a bachelor of science degree in environmental science and a bachelor of science in natural sciences to study biology. There are also graduate programs such as the master of science in environmental policy and management and several graduate certificates in climate change awareness and leadership, environmental risk assessment, environmental sustainability, and natural resource management.
In addition, there are also certificates that involve the study of ecosystems, such as the undergraduate certificate in public lands management.
Environmental Student Organizations
In addition to academic programs, there are also student organizations with a scientific or environmental theme. These organizations include The Wildlife Society (TWS), Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (wSTEM), Association of Women in Science (AWIS) and National Association of Environmental Professionals (NEAP). In these organizations, students and faculty can get involved to share information about biodiversity and ecosystem sustainability.
An Interview with a Wildlife Biologist about Biodiversity
I had a chance to e-interview professional wildlife biologist Trish Cutler. She has worked as a wildlife biologist for the Department of Defense (DoD) for 23 years.
Cutler works in partnership with other state and federal agencies and non-government organizations (NGOs) to promote biodiversity and manage wildlife on DoD lands. Some species she studies are migratory birds, bats, golden eagles, and an array of other flora and fauna found in New Mexico.
She says biodiversity is critically important and “results in healthy and sustainable ecosystems and a sustainable planet. However, we are falling short. Climate change will undoubtedly result in a decrease in biodiversity, so we need to address it NOW.”
Cutler explains that “biodiversity can be low or high, and some ecosystems naturally have low or high biodiversity. Maximizing the natural biodiversity is desirable because each species has a specific function in the ecosystem.
“Therefore, maximizing biodiversity maximizes ecosystem processes and services and the healthy functioning of an ecosystem. Losing species can negatively affect ecosystem function and health.”
To recognize biodiversity and celebrate this International Day for Biodiversity in our own communities, Cutler says to “Take time to smell the roses!” She advises, “Spending time in nature is good for your health! Spend time outdoors and notice the plant and animals around you. Participate in citizen science survey projects. Support organizations that work to conserve species and their habitats. Provide a variety of resources in your own backyard for pollinators, mammals, invertebrates and birds.”
About the Author
Dr. Kristi Drexler is a full-time faculty member in the Space and Earth Studies Programs. She teaches geography, environmental science, earth system history and conservation of natural resources for the School of STEM. She earned her Ph.D. in educational leadership at New Mexico State University by researching socioecological systems, sustainable agroecology and community education. She earned her master of arts in international affairs with an emphasis in natural resources management from Ohio University. Kristi was also awarded the Undergraduate Excellence in Teaching Award for the School of STEM (2020) and the Dr. Wallace E. Boston Leadership Award (2021).
Kristi has conducted numerous community surveys in Belize regarding agroforestry, conservation and sustainable agriculture. Until she became a full-time instructor in 2009, she was an environmental scientist in New Mexico, conducting field biology surveys and environmental impact analyses. Kristi founded the Belize Field School Program at NMSU, coordinating short courses in Belize in wildlife, agroforestry, marine ecology, and documentary film (2006-2014) and produced an award-winning short film, “Yochi” in 2017 about youth conservation and action against poaching and illegal wildlife trade. In the late 1990s, she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Belize.
Kristi co-founded and serves on the board of directors of Full Basket Belize, a U.S. nonprofit that provides high school scholarships and community grants in Belize, and she serves as a faculty advisor for the university’s wSTEM and AWIS chapters. She also founded the “Science Talks with Dr. Drexler and Friends” lesson series for primary school students (2020-21).