Losing Biodiversity

Causes of Biodiversity Loss
When loss of biodiversity is discussed, you will be surprised how often people fall into categorisation of ‘causes’.  They list many things, including:
  • It is something that occurs when people ‘don't know any better’
  • People ‘don't have enough money to take care of the land’
  • People are ‘running too many animals’ on their land
  • Bad weather. Droughts are often said to be the root cause of declining biodiversity
  • In many regions, people living a nomadic existence, where they ‘don’t own and are therefore don’t love the land’
  • Land that is too hilly, subject to erosion and shouldn’t be used
  • Land is simply too poor
When the loss of biodiversity world wide is studied, it becomes apparent that it seems to be occurring everywhere in both brittle and non-brittle environments.  In almost all areas of the world there is decline in the variety of species present, and in many species there is also a decline in the total numbers of individuals present.

Whatever conscious or unconscious decision-making process was used, each is failing.  As the loss of biodiversity in these areas accelerates, the social, environmental and economic difficulties will increase.

Symptoms of Biodiversity Loss
As important as biodiversity is to the planet, how does one know when it is being lost?  There are a variety of signs, as indicated in the list below.  Beside each indicator, is a note showing which of the four ecosystem processes is primarily involved, although all the other cycles will also be involved.
  • Deserts form and spread (desertification) (Community dynamics)
  • Increased incidence of both floods and droughts (Water cycle)
  • Increasing dryland salinity (Water cycle)
  • Underground water, springs and rivers dry up (Water cycle)
  • Rapid soil erosion, silting of rivers, dams, estuaries (Water cycle)
  • Sand dunes in arid areas (Community dynamics)
  • Falling productivity of land and/or (Solar energy flow)
  • Rising costs to maintain productivity (Mineral cycle)
  • Outbreaks of problem plants (Community dynamics)
  • Outbreaks of small animals, birds and insects in high numbers (Community dynamics)
  • Increase in disease in plants and animals (Community dynamics)
  • Mounting human conflict (Community dynamics)
  • Failing villages and towns (Community dynamics)
  • Rising urban drift and mounting social problems, family breakdown, unorganised crime and bureaucracy (Community dynamics)
  • Failure and abandonment of cities and their industries (Community dynamics)

Species decline and erosion - symptoms of biodiversity loss

The consequences of biodiversity loss
At the farm level
As noted in the list above, declining biodiversity on a farm is often first noticed as a decrease in productivity.  As farmers seek ways to address this, they are led towards increasing applications of external energy inputs, such as fertilisers, pesticides and weedicides, and thus experience what is normally the second economic symptom of loss of biodiversity: increasing costs of production.

Also commonly noted at the farm level is an economically dangerous reliance on one or several monocultures, such as vast areas of wheat, corn or single species crops.

At the global level
The historic record is very strong.  Over the last 10,000 years or so, many civilisations have failed. Where they were located in non-brittle tending environments we tend to find them hidden in the jungle, whilst in brittle-tending environments we tend to excavate them from the blowing sands.

Many of these civilisations were agriculturally very advanced, and some, such as the Hohokam Indians had large scale irrigation systems that rival modern schemes.

Poor or desertifying land means poor people, political unrest, and social upheaval.  In the western world most of us don't realise the possibility that, despite our advanced knowledge and extreme access to technology, our civilisation could also become extinct.  Fewer still see this possibility as being linked to a loss of biodiversity.  

Biodiversity represents the only true wealth civilisations have ever had, no matter how they measured it.  As we lose biodiversity we lose "capital."  That's why the framework that underpins managing holistically takes as its foundation the four processes at work in the ecosystem, and why every decision tested is done so in light of how it will affect any one of them.  

An advance in Community Dynamics, an increase in Energy Flow, or an improvement in Water or Mineral Cycles, is a replenishment of capital.

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