Why Conserve Biodiversity?
We are learning more every day about the answers to this question, which has moved closer to the forefront of our collective psyche as new environmental challenges emerge. Biodiversity is the incredible, dizzying variety of life that surrounds us, including all of the earth’s plants, animals, their habitats, and the natural processes that connect them.
It is clear that biodiversity is the cornerstone of our existence on Earth. It is also important to conserve biodiversity for the sake of our own curiosity and aesthetic appreciation. Colorado’s mountains are spectacular, but what would they be without our splendid variety of wildlife and wildflowers? Colorado is full of biodiversity wonders, many of which are unique to our state.
Medicines originating from wild species, including penicillin, aspirin, taxol, and quinine, have saved millions of lives and alleviated tremendous suffering. Forty percent of all prescriptions are for medicines that originated from plants and animals. No one knows how many more cures await discovery, hidden in Earth’s poorly studied species.
There are 80,000 species of edible plants known on Earth, but 90% of the world’s food comes from a mere 20 of these species. Edible plant species, both those we know of and those we don’t, offer a tremendous resource of possibilities that could greatly add to the security of our food. How many of these have high potential for commercial exploitation and for feeding the hungry? Certainly a great many. Breeding cultivars with their wild counterparts can also confer resistance to diseases and increase crop yield.
Biodiversity is the life support system of our planet- we depend on it for the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. Wetlands filter pollutants from water, trees and plants reduce global warming by absorbing carbon, and bacteria and fungi break down organic material and fertilize the soil. It has been empirically shown that native species richness is linked to the health of ecosystems, as is the quality of life for humans.
The connections between biodiversity and our sustainable future appear closer and closer the more we look. We literally need to conserve biodiversity like our lives depend on it!