September 22, 2019
Biodiversity Blog Part One of Two
Diversity is variety. Biodiversity is the variety of life.
Maintaining variety across all aspects of life is integral to ensuring healthy, robust, and resilient conditions for growth and continuity. Farming and agriculture, neighborhoods and communities, our diets, political candidates, classrooms and learning environments, forest flora and fauna: all these aspects of life rely on diversity for sustenance.
When we diversify our diets, we ensure that our bodies are receiving a wide array of nutrients—proteins, carbohydrates, fats, magnesium, calcium, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin D, the list goes on—all of which are integral to satisfying our bodies' many functional needs. When we limit our diets, we may miss out on some of the essential requirements for the body to remain healthy, leading to deficiencies and greater susceptibility to illness and other health conditions.
Our neighborhoods and communities are made up of a mosaic of many different individuals with varying life experiences, belief systems, family backgrounds, ethnicities, and expertise. When we collectively interact with one another, we begin to build connections, find commonalities that bridge our differences, cultivate trust, respect, and understanding, and identify opportunities for cooperation. With more diversity contributing to our communities, we are able to function more holistically and approach challenges that we collectively face, giving us greater opportunity to develop innovative solutions. If we were all teachers, who would feed us? What if we started getting sick? Who would treat us? Each of our experiences, skills, and expertises is valuable; how we contribute to our community is what creates greater resilience within our social structure, allowing it to function dynamically.
For farmers, the importance of diversity is an obvious one. If a farmer plants a single crop and that crop is not drought resistant, an extremely dry season could result in poor yields for the farmer. By diversifying the crops, and even the types of one crop (i.e. different varieties of tomatoes or apples that require different soil or water requirements to prosper), farmers are more likely to have some very successful crops based on the growing conditions of any given year.
Forest ecosystems are no exception to this need for diversity. Forests are composed of many different tree species that are susceptible and resistant to different environmental conditions and pests, and for good reason: without diversity among tree species, our forests and the flora and fauna that inhabit them would be vulnerable to a myriad of threats. An example of the importance of diversity among tree species in northeastern North America is the emerald ash borer. Five species of native ash have been ravaged by emerald ash borer, an invasive species, in the past fifteen years, and their populations have plummeted. Ash disappearance in stream-side habitat results in erosion of soils into streams, as well as changes in water temperature with increased solar exposure. Gaps in the forest canopy, due to ash tree mortality, affect the microclimate of the forest, making it less ideal for native species that have historically inhabited that environment, and making it more ideal for invasive species, thereby facilitating the invasion of exotic plant species. Another notable repercussion of ash loss is the reduced biodiversity of herbivores that depend on ash for food. Some ash species exhibit resistance to the emerald ash borer, including the blue ash tree, which is native to North America, and the Manchurian ash tree, which co-evolved with the emerald ash borer in China.
Biological, ecological, political, and social systems around us all reflect the same underlying concept: our individual differences are inherently valuable and contribute to our collective strength. The more variety within a system, the better equipped that system is to respond to and recover from different threats and pressures
These are just a handful of examples of life’s synchronistic nature, in which the aggregate value is greater than the sum of its parts. When looking at the world through a biodiverse lens, we are required to think BIG about the cascading consequences that emerge across an entire network when even just one individual is affected. As our comprehension and ability to apply a biodiverse perspective develops, we create greater opportunities for anticipating, understanding, and apprehending complex problems.
Taylor Milne, East Coast Environmental Law Communications and Office Manager