Biodiversity Conservation

We interact with our environment in our everyday lives. We use our environment directly for leisure and its resources to fuel our cars and home. Using environmental resources to fuel cars heats homes, and we will produce a carbon footprint for others. Carbon footprint is the greenhouse emissions by an individual, a group of individuals or organisations etc.

Biodiversity Conservation Biodiversity Conservation

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    You can calculate your carbon footprint online; plenty of websites and resources are available!

    By leaving a carbon footprint and having other impacts such as deforestation to make furniture or habitat displacement and loss due to agricultural expansion. We must protect our environment to keep our world and health balanced and preserve it for future generations. This is what biodiversity conservation is.

    Biodiversity: The variety of living organisms on Earth.

    The history of biodiversity conservation

    Biodiversity is an old concept, dating back to 2000 years ago in Greece. Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, made observations on the physiology and behaviour of different animals. Back then, our impact was relatively negligible. `Civilisation did not have things we have now - like cars, electricity and technology.

    The industrial revolution, the transition from handcraft and agrarian economy to manufacturing processes involving machines in 1700, has led to the warming of the climate, known as global warming.

    Currently, there are more and more renewable sources of energy used, such as wind and solar power and cars fuelled by electricity. There are protected areas such as reserves and National Parks to protect and preserve endangered species and prevent deforestation.

    Biodiversity conservation varies between countries; it depends on the country's economy, i.e. funds available to carry out conservation tasks, politics, culture and environmental structure such as the ecology and landscape.

    The meaning of biodiversity conservation

    Biodiversity conservation relates to the preservation, protection and management of biodiversity. It is about how resources can be obtained from sustainable development. To understand this, it is crucial to know the three primary levels of biodiversity - genetic, species and ecosystem.

    Conserving these biodiversity elements can preserve genetic diversity and utilise species and ecosystems more sustainably.

    Genetic diversity

    Genetic diversity is the diversity of genetic information in living organisms. A species with a more diverse gene pool will have a higher chance of adapting and surviving changing environmental conditions.

    Gene pool: the overall genetic diversity (collection of genes) within a species or a population.

    Let's look at two examples of low genetic diversity and its consequences.

    Since old times, crops have been selected and bred in crop agriculture to improve the yield produced. But with advantages come disadvantages. With this, pathogen susceptibility can also increase. Selecting a single species of crop and growing it over a large area will inevitably disturb the natural balance. If an epidemic (a widespread disease in a community at a specific time) were to happen, all crops would be lost.

    Inbreeding refers to the mating of closely related organisms. Inbreeding is one of the main factors causing an increased chance of recessive diseases (diseases passed down from both parent carriers).

    Dog breeding can be used as an example. When specific breeds were being developed, dogs were usually inbred to enhance a wanted characteristic(s). At present, there is not as much of this happening. However, breeders may wish to inbreed closely related individuals to reduce costs and inconvenience in trying to find a more distant relative. By doing this, not only some good characteristics will be passed down but also the not-so-good ones.

    Mixed breeds tend to live longer than purebreds because of this. Mixed breeds have a lower chance of developing mentioned recessive hereditary conditions.

    Although you might have previously considered buying a purebred dog, it is worth considering adopting a mixed breed dog in need of a home!

    Species diversity

    Species diversity is the variety of organisms existing in the environment; this includes species richness and abundance.

    Species richness: The number of species within a specific area.

    Species abundance: The number of individuals in each species.

    Species diversity takes into account both richness and abundance. Species diversity is higher when the richness is high and abundance in each species investigated is more even (i.e. each species contains a similar number of individuals).

    Simpson's Diversity Index (0 to 1) for a population with numerous species:

    Biodiversity Conservation Simpson's Diversity Index StudySmarter

    n = Total number of individuals in a single species.

    N = The total number of individuals in the whole population.


    Species

    Number of individuals (n)

    n(n-1)

    Species A

    5

    20

    Species B

    10

    90

    Species C

    3

    6

    Total

    18

    116

    Simpson’s Index will then be: 1 - (116 / (18 x 17)) = 0.62 (2 d. p.)

    You can simplify the number to appropriate significant figures (after 0) or decimal places.

    In this case, the diversity index is high. The closer it is to 0, the lower the diversity (0 representing no diversity and 1 representing infinite diversity).

    Ecosystem diversity

    Ecosystem diversity is the number of ecosystems in a specific area. Ecosystems consist of abiotic and biotic components that interact with each other.

    Community: all species populations in the area.

    Biotic: Living components of the environment.

    Abiotic: Non-living components of the environment, e.g. temperature and soil pH.

    Ecosystems can be very large or smaller. Some of the larger ones include aquatic ecosystems and forests; some of the smaller ones can be a pond in your garden.

    Biodiversity Conservation Illustration of wildlife StudySmarterFigure 1. Interactions between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, pixabay.com.

    Types of biodiversity conservation

    There are many ways that you can classify types of biodiversity. There are two main broader types of biodiversity conservation:

    • In-situ: conservation of species in their natural environment.

    • Ex-situ: conservation of species out of their natural habitat.

    For example, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens etc.

    These can further be divided into more specific types of conservation, such as:

    • Marine conservation: Includes all marine ecosystems. These can be tropical coral reefs, mangrove forests, estuaries and others.

    Biodiversity ConservationImage of fishes under the sea  StudySmarterFigure 2. The coral reef, pixabay.com.

    • Animal conservation: Conservation efforts for animals which can be in-situ or ex-situ.

    Let's take an example of a zebra which can be conserved in both ways. A zebra can be protected in national parks, reserves and sanctuaries (i.e. in-situ) or zoos (ex-situ).

    Limitations, sometimes resulting in ethical issues, can arise from protecting animals ex-situ. Ex-situ animal conservation requires good maintenance in artificial habitats and protection from in-breeding, which can deteriorate the gene pool. Animals kept in small enclosures that do not well replicate their natural habitat will have a low quality of life.

    • Plant conservation: Plants can also be conserved in-situ or ex-situ.

    In-situ examples include reserves where plants are preserved in their natural state; ex-situ conservation includes seed banks (plant seeds can be frozen to be used in the future) and botanical gardens.

    These are some of the broader conservation types which can be divided into more specific types such as ascertain species or a certain group of species etc.

    Have you heard of cryopreservation before? Cryopreservation refers to the preservation of intact living tissues and individual cells. Tissues and cells are kept at very low temperatures. Typically, freezing can be lethal, but with cryopreservation, either solid carbon dioxide (cooling at -80 degrees) or liquid nitrogen (cooling at -196 degrees) are used.

    With regular freezing, ice crystals that form will damage the cells; with cryopreservation, the tissues investigated are coated with cryoprotectants (e.g. glycerol and ethylene glycol).

    At the moment, cryopreservation is used to freeze sperm, eggs and embryos, among other tissues and cells. Cryopreservation is still under investigation to preserve whole animals.

    Some worms, vertebrates and microbiological cultures of bacteria and fungi have been shown to tolerate freezing (however, not to -196 degrees as sperm cells!).

    Human impact on biodiversity

    Human impact on biodiversity is significant. Some examples include:

    • Deforestation: Cutting down large areas of trees for agriculture and expansion of cities, along with others.

    • Global warming: Greenhouse gases released into the environment cause climate warming. This occurs due to our use of fossil fuels, agriculture and others.

    • Poor waste management: Producing lots of waste which ends up in landfills.

    • Water pollution: Discharge of substances into streams and rivers, which can lead to eutrophication (body of water enriched with organic substances).

    Examples of biodiversity conservation efforts

    There are many ways biodiversity can be conserved and improved. These include:

    • Reducing deforestation and promoting tree re-planting.

    • The utilisation of renewable resources and reduction in non-renewable resource use.

    • Protected sites such as Ramsar sites (wetlands of importance), National parks and reserves.

    • Protection of endangered species - European Red Lists, Invasive Alien Species, Pollinators in Europe, Protected Areas and Natura 2000 etc.

    • Public awareness by delivering lectures on numerous issues, providing workshops and educating in schools.

    • In everyday life, utilising "reduce, reuse, recycle" - may not look like much on the direct effect of things. However, items which are thrown away and end up in landfills can often end up in the ocean.

    As well as these, you can join a volunteering organisation where you will directly contribute to improving habitats or simply not cut the grass in your own garden to increase biodiversity.

    Let's look at an example where humans have tried to reverse the impacts.

    Coral reef restoration

    Coral reefs are probably the most known and researched ecosystem in the world.

    You have probably seen colourful pictures of coral reef ecosystems with different fishes, anemones and other animals.

    Coral reefs are not only crucial for the provision of a diverse 3D habitat for many species but also for the protection of coasts from storms and contribute to the local economy (fishing, tourism and others). Sadly, however, climate change and overfishing have had negative effects. As well as seeing colourful coral reefs, you might also have seen corals that are bleached and no longer alive.

    In short, coral bleaching is when symbiotic algae are expelled from the coral, giving them a white appearance.

    Corals are not actually "colourful" themselves; they have symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues. They have a mutualistic relationship (symbiosis) where the coral provides compounds for photosynthesis and protection to the algae, and in return, the algae provide food. When the ocean temperatures are too warm, the coral expels algae.

    Why would it expel algae when it is stressed? Surely it needs algae more during stressful times. This is because algae subjected to heat stress starts to pump free oxygen radicals, which causes damage to the coral tissue; the coral has no choice but to expel them to avoid further damage. If the heat stress does not persist for a long time, in some cases, bleaching can be reversible, and algae come back to the coral tissue. Otherwise, the coral will eventually die without the food source provided by algae.

    Biodiversity Conservation Infographic explaining how a coral becomes bleached StudySmarterFigure 3. Coral bleaching, Wikimedia Commons.

    Other pressures apart from heat stress include disease and predation by Crown-of-thorns starfish and Drupella snails.

    Drupella is in italics because it is a genus name. In taxonomy, the genus and the species' name are always in italics.

    Coral gardening is one of the most popular ways to help coral reefs recover. It is a two-step process where coral fragments are grown in coral nurseries and are then transferred onto the degraded reef. This is best for an existing, established reef. It provides the "push" for the reef to withstand environmental pressures and survive.

    Artificial reefs can also be used to increase biodiversity and restore the reef. Shipwrecks, dead coral rubble and other structures can be utilised. Structural restoration is needed when a large part of the reef has been destroyed through blast fishing, dredging or other significant disturbances.

    Other ways include cultivating and releasing coral larvae and transplanting live colonies.

    Biodiversity Conservation - Key takeaways

    • Biodiversity is all life on Earth. There are three types: genetic, species and ecosystem diversity.

    • You can calculate species diversity by using Simpson's diversity index.

    • Biodiversity can be conserved either in-situ (natural environment) or ex-situ (out of the natural environment).

    • Some human impacts on biodiversity include deforestation, global warming and air and water pollution.

    • Biodiversity conservation efforts include protecting vulnerable species, using renewable resources and reducing waste.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Biodiversity Conservation

    How can we conserve biodiversity?

    There are many ways that biodiversity can be conserved. We can start small by incorporating “reduce, reuse, recycle” and volunteering. As a human population, we should prevent deforestation, utilise renewable resources, and protect endangered species among others.

    What is biodiversity conservation?

    Protection and preservation of the environment and living organisms associated with it.

    Why is biodiversity conservation important?

    We use our environment directly for leisure and its resources to fuel our cars and home. We need to conserve our environment to be able to use its resources in the long term.

    What is an example of biodiversity conservation?

    Coral nurseries for reef restoration.

    What is environmental biodiversity?

    A variety of living organisms on Earth.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    True or false - Data deficient is a category of threat?

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