opinion | Biodiversity is the key to tackling climate change

The reason for the sharp decline in our biodiversity is well known. The biggest threat to wild plants and animals is the loss of their habitat. Where there is no longer a place to hide, eat, raise young, or just grow, plants and animals cannot survive.

Coming in second is “overexploitation”: unsustainable hunting, fishing, and the gathering and harvesting of wild animals and plants. Pollution and climate change come third and fourth. For example, pollution with excessive nitrogen is a major problem in many countries with intensive agriculture. Climate change plays a major role worldwide.

The polar bear has become a symbol of the consequences of global warming: with ice, its habitat disappears. But changing rainfall patterns, with more extreme weather such as heavy rains and dry summers, also threaten the survival of many species.

pasture

We really need biodiversity to deal with climate change. Grasslands with a high diversity of grasses and herbs are more stable in providing ecosystem services under highly variable climatic conditions. In particular, the production of plant biomass, that is, the amount of forage available to pastoralists such as livestock, is more stable when the number of plant species in the vegetation increases.

For example, a review study in temper nature Already in 2015 grasslands with a higher diversity are better able to adapt to extreme weather conditions such as severe summer drought. This also makes our food production more resistant to harsh weather. The same effect was found for plant diversity on the stability of forests. These not only provide food and wood, but also fix carbon and regulate the climate.

Also important is the great diversity of animal species. To survive climate change, many plant and animal species will have to move from the current region they are in to other regions that are colder and/or wetter. Animals can often move on their own. But plants, including those that stabilize our ecosystems and make us more resilient to climate change, reproduce only once in their lifetime, as seeds. Animals disperse the seeds of about half of all plant species.

A recent study in Science It shows how plants depend on different animal species for their distribution. If an animal species becomes extinct locally due to hunting, for example, some plant species can no longer be propagated. These species lose the ability to monitor climate change. The study calculates that the current loss of animal species has already led to a 60 percent reduction in the ability of plants to keep pace with climate change. The loss of endangered species in the future would lead to a further decline of 15 percent. Thus, preserving current wild animal populations and restoring disappearing animal populations is essential to keep our ecosystems resilient to climate change.

green carrots

My colleagues and I have shown in a study that protecting nature reserves makes sense. Especially in a fragmented landscape, where nature occurs as green islands between agriculture, infrastructure and buildings, the strict protection of residual nature makes sense. It is not surprising that the larger the parts of nature, the more species of animals can live in it. Strictly protected large fragments are also able to survive more exotic species, such as endangered species and seed-scattering birds. Birds that can spread seeds over greater distances especially benefit from larger parts of nature.

It is therefore critical that sound agreements are made around the world to conserve and restore biodiversity. But agreements alone will not get us there. It should be followed by action: protecting natural areas and working to restore flora and fauna groups, not only in nature but also in agricultural and forest systems. These are unrepentant actions. We can’t wait for the next biodiversity summit. Nor the climate.

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