Biodiversity Keeps Earth Alive

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By Noah Bergren on May 18, 2012, 9:39am

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How Does Biodiversity Keep Our Earth Alive?

Biodiversity is basically a way of measuring the health of ecosystems.

In 1994, a group of American Biologists seeded areas of grass land in Minnesota; some as many as 16 species of grasses and other plants, some as little as only 1.  In the first couple years after planting, the plots with eight or more species fared just as well as those with fewer species, potentially suggesting that a complex mixture of multiple species, (known as biodiversity), did not affect the amount of the plots blade, leaf, or stem and root.  However in the several years after the first 5 years, over the span of more than a decade, the plots with more species produced the highest abundance of plant life.

On another note, the whole planet Earth is on the border of what some highly aclamined scientists are calling: The 6th Mass Extinction; which is the wiping of animals and plants and other forms of life due to human activity. The global impact of such biodiversity loss is detailed in a meta-analysis led by biologist David Hooper of Western Washington University. His team examined over 190 species rich places and its effect on ecosystems. "The primary drivers of biodiversity loss are, in rough order of impact to date: habitat loss, overharvesting, invasive species, pollution and climate change, (Hooper). Biodiversity loss in the 21st century could rank among the major drivers of ecosystem change in our world today.

Additionally, some other findings of the study show that losing only 21% of the species in a particular ecosystem can potentially reduce the total amount of biomass in the ecosystem by nearly 10% or more!  Then however, when more than 40% of an ecosystem's species disappear; from plants to fungi to animals, the effects can be as significant as those caused by a major drought. This even doesn't take into account how species extinction can be driven by other variable changes such as warmer global temperature or nitrogen pollution.  

The biggest driver of human impacts on the rest of life on this planet is our need for food and materials. Maintaining high biomass from farming ecosystems, which often emphasize monocultures (single species) while also preserving biodiversity—some species now appear only on farmland is a key issue for Earth's Biological sustainability; granted if we plan on feeding and providing food for billions of people for the next 1/2 century.

However, according to the study, decomposition is exempt from this frightening fact. This means that the bacteria and fungi will still happily break down plants that are leftover after this sixth extinction. However, this will omit thousands of unique species that have already been lost that are known to science; a rate at which could potentially cut in 1/2 the number of species on the planet by the year 2100.  Fake, clones, and ghosts of species haunt and agitate ecosystems worldwide, which has already been lost animal species, as well as their ability to sustain life.

Looking ahead to the longer term, maintaining Earths' soil fertility may require nurturing, creating and sparing plant and microbial diversity. Granted that biodiversity itself controls the elemental cycles of carbon, nitrogen, and water that allow the planet to support all possible forms of life. Only by acting in conjunction with one another, can all of this come together and "work", as set of grassland plant species maintain healthy levels of nitrogen in both soil and leaf. As soil fertility increases, this directly  increased the biomass production on Earth.

So in the end, Biodiversity is really a key ingredient (among many) that keep our Earth happily and naturally thriving at its normal capabilities.  However, in 70-90 years from now; there may not be the same species of things living on Earth...

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Noah Bergren

Town: Berlin, CT  

Reporting for WXedge since February 2012.

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