Biodiversity is the most complex and important feature of our planet without which life won't sustain. It is fundamental to human life on earth. As per WWF’s living planet report published in 2020, nature is diminishing globally at unprecedented rates from millions of years. According to this report, the population size of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have been disproportionately declining to an average of 68% since 1970. In order to increase an understanding and awareness of Biodiversity issues, The United Nations have proclaimed May 22 as The International Day for Biological Diversity or World Biodiversity Day. The theme for world biodiversity day for the year 2022 was “Building a shared future for all life forms”. It is an absolute fact that from ecosystem-based approaches to climate and/ nature-based solutions to climate, health issues, food and water security and sustainable livelihoods, biodiversity is the foundation upon which we can build back better.
Biodiversity refers to the richness and variety of life on earth or the total variety of life in a given area and constitutes all the diverse species of animals, plants, fungi and even microorganisms and bacteria in a living state. It is an established fact that no one knows the total number of species but there are about tens of thousands of species of plants and animals known and even more species are being discovered every day. The biodiversity also involves variations at genetic level among individuals belonging to same species. Additionally, it includes plants and animals from different communities that co-exist or occur conjointly. Needless to mention, India is considered as one of the most diverse nations in the world and ranks ninth in terms of richness of plant species. It is imperative for the benefit of humans and other species to conserve the diversity of plants and animals as much as possible. It can be explicitly said that individual species are responsible to meet our fundamental needs e.g.,
- Animals and plants supply food and materials for clothing, shelter and fuel.
- Insects carry out pollination of crops and control pests that cause severe damage to agriculture (Biological control).
- Plants are the sources of oxygen and various medicines are also produced from them that cure different ailments.
- Microorganisms cause decomposition of waste products and recycle different nutrients.
Pertinent to mention, each species of plants and animals if lost cannot be replaced as it is a sole component of our planet. Human intervention is one of the important causes that has led to increasing and alarming loss of biodiversity. Furthermore, loss of suitable habitat is the major cause for diminishing the populations of species. The excessive population development, wetland filling, natural calamities like forest fires, droughts, floods, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and other activities have resulted in the rampant exploitation of biodiversity resources. In addition, the spread of invasive & non-native species has dramatically changed the composition and replaced our native species' population. For example, the chestnut blight fungus from Asia nearly wiped out the American chestnut within 30 years. The formerly common and tall tree is much reduced in number and in size. Similarly, Cyprinius carpio sps. (Carp) locally called as ‘Punjaab Gaad’ has drastically reduced the population of Schizothorax fish (Kaashir Gaad). Moreover, Congress grass, a weed is an invasive species from west that has drastically affected the flora of our Valley.
The other reason for declined biodiversity is pollution. Although much awareness about the causes of anthropogenic pollution has been inculcated by modern population, however, some pollutants like acid rain, pesticides and fertilizers still result in alteration of the chemical balance of our lakes and rivers which is obviously detrimental to fish and other aquatic life.
Measures to avert biodiversity loss
There are many ways by which we can support biodiversity in our region or right in our own backyard. Some important measures include:
1. Make way for pollinators
Pollination is one of the important biological processes and is carried by the butterflies, beetles, birds, bats and even humans. Bees- Black and yellow insects buzzing around the flowers in our garden are some of the most important crop pollinators. They cause about 75 percent increase in production of our crop species. So in order to increase the crop production it is imperative to increase the population of bees and other pollinators.
2. Limit pesticides and welcome weeds
Pesticides possess chemicals that are highly dangerous to pests, fungus and weeds. Animals, plants and people are too affected to a greater extent by the use of these pesticides. Some substances generated from these pesticides are harmful to groundwater, soil and pollinating insects. In order to reduce their use in agricultural practices, some plants usually thought as weeds may be allowed to grow as they provide organic matter, cause stabilization of soil, provide habitat and feed for wildlife, nectar for bees, offer aesthetic qualities, provide genetic reservoir and also provide employment opportunities to human beings.
3. Ecological restoration
It is very indispensable for us to ensure ecological restoration for native species and eliminate invasive species in our area by carrying out research on the plants and vegetables that are local to our area and take appropriate measures to grow such endemic varieties.
4. Reduce climate change
Utilization of huge amounts of fossil fuels directly causes climate change that in turn has disastrous consequences for all living things on earth and for reducing the effects of climate change, we need to decline the use of fossil fuels and move towards alternative energy sources and natural products.
It needs to be always ensured that the economic development must not come at the price of the ecology. Efforts must be made to realize a coordinated development of the economy, society and environment and achieve harmonious co-existence between man and society as well as between man and nature. Until today, Earth is still the only home to mankind, so to care for and cherish it is the only option for mankind. According to Frans Lanting, Biodiversity starts in the distant past and it points towards the future. We should thus not only take steps to conserve biota for our own generation but also take responsibility for future ones. We must protect this planet like our own eyes and cherish nature the way we cherish life.
(Author is a Professor, S.P College Srinagar)