The ant. One of the tiniest, most overlooked insects in the world. Well at least they seem to be overlooked until you find a colony of them nesting in your sugar bowl. But aside from their insatiable sweet tooth, how often do you really think about and consider their role in the greater tapestry of global ecology? Probably not much, they are in your sugar bowl, of course, and you’d really like some ant-free tea or coffee! Over 12,000 species of ants exist across the world and each species has a different role to play. Roles that support larger life on the planet, including us. Some species are scavengers that keep our ecosystems clean, some dig tunnels that aerate soils so nutrients, water and oxygen may reach plant roots, while others carry seeds into their underground nests, feeding on their nutrients and simultaneously planting that seed so it may sprout later.
As the dominant species on the planet, humans often tend to focus on themselves as individuals long before we consider any other species or the importance of the roles those species play in keeping us alive. The ants are just one small example of how biological diversity in a single species may have many different, necessary and profound impacts on the natural world around us. A world that we desperately depend on for survival.
This year’s focus for International Day for Biological Diversity is how and why biological diversity is important to the food we eat, the air we breath and the water we drink. It’s almost fitting that just two days ago it was World Bee Day, bees as a species have been on a severe decline since the 1990s and their role in our survival is paramount. Yet the buzzing black and yellow insects are still dying out at a rapid rate and there doesn’t seem to be too much concern as to why this is happening or how we can stop it. Bees are pollinators, as many of you will know, and are thus responsible for propagating the next generation of flowers, grasses, fruit trees and so many other plant species it is impossible to list them all. Bee populations also provide a good indicator as to the population status of other pollinators such as butterflies, moths and beetles. When the bees began to disappear, so did all the other insects responsible for making sure we can put the leafy, rooty or fruity goodness on our tables everyday.
The causes for their decline are as a direct result of human activity, industrial monocrop culture, harmful pesticides and climate change. Of these threats the main perpetrators are a loss in biodiversity due to large scale industrial farming and the use of bee-killing pesticides. Maintaining biodiversity and reducing the amount of harmful insecticides used to produce our food would substantially improve bee populations, a species that is directly responsible for healthy growth and harvest over 30% of the global food supply. If the bees and other pollinators go, then so do we.
In essence, the term “biological diversity” or “biodiversity” refers to the total number of species in a given natural habitat and any time. From organisms such as plants and trees to bacteria, insects, fish, reptiles, birds, molluscs and mammals, each one has its own role to play in the intricate global web of survival. Each species dependent on another for the continuation of life. Yet human activity has put the brakes on the expansion of global biodiversity and is, in fact, causing this necessary aspect of life to decline. Sadly, it is estimated that we will lose approximately 20% of the Earth’s biodiversity in our lifetime. A scary statistic considering the perpetual growth of the human population, how will we feed all those new, hungry mouths with an ever diminishing and less diverse ecosystem?
The Earth’s natural resources are humanity’s greatest asset, our civilizations are built on the pillars of the natural world and our very own development has been totally dependent on billions of years worth of evolution and species diversification.
Despite the doom and gloom of our ever neglectful attitude towards preserving our natural environment there is still hope. With the multitude of scientific evidence backing the degradation of our natural world, a shift in culture and mentality has taken place. This is mainly occurring within the current 18 – 35 year old demographic, seems the millennial generation is good for something after all! A conscious decision to adopt more eco-friendly diets, the banning of single-use plastics in many countries, research into crop rotation and variation, sustainable farming, the creation of bee hotels and homemade compost heaps are all reducing and improving our current state of biodiversity. But will this be enough to curb the damage already done? Many scientists and researchers are positive it will, provided that the majority of our population begins to follow suite and it is not limited to the tree-hugging, vegan hippies of the forest.
Overall, today is not a day to dwell on the negative impact we as a species have had on the planet, but rather to become aware of the current environmental issues we face and how we can begin to fix these. So, the next time you consider drowning those sugar loving ants with a household pesticide, or removing that beehive from a local park, think about the impact those animals have had on your life and consider where you would be without them. Now is not a time to feel sorry for ourselves or guilty about the state of the world, but rather an opportunity to begin making a difference, to preserve what we have left and to nurture it, ever so slowly, back to good health.
Featured image credit: James Hendry