Conservation and Biodiversity
As we encroach on habitats, biodiversity declines
May 22, 2020
Amid a global pandemic, it may seem logical to push issues of conservation and biodiversity aside.
But the coronavirus is directly linked to environmental degradation.
Humans are pushing further and further into new habitats, increasing human-wildlife contact. These interactions have serious consequences: When we interact more directly with wildlife, we also interact more closely with the diseases they carry.
Diseases that jump from animals to humans are known as zoonoses, and they’re increasing in frequency. In the early 2000s, SARS spread from bats and civet cats; a century ago, the Spanish influenza affected birds and other mammals before it transferred to humans; in the last year, COVID-19 spread from a wildlife market.
And as we continue to infringe on forest habitats, diversity of species declines. Studies show that species richness and evenness have a “dilution effect” on disease within a host community, making it less likely to get passed to humans.
We’re at a critical point in environmental history. More than a million species are at risk of extinction because of our actions. If we want to survive, humans must change our relationship with the natural world.
Infringing on wild environments has not helped anyone thus far. Instead, we must work to protect these environments and set limits for ourselves — if not for the sake of stewardship then for preservation of the beneficial species that live among us.
Species from coral reefs to rainforests make up roughly 40–50 percent of our pharmaceuticals. Experts have tried to put a dollar value on ecosystem services, but no amount of money could truly buy what they do for us. For example, one great whale provides us $2 million worth of services over their lifetime and helps fight climate change.
May 22 marks the International Day for Biological Diversity, a United Nations-sanctioned day dedicated to promoting issues related to biodiversity. We’ve seen where our business as usual has gotten us and it’s time to change.