Biodiversity supports our food systems, clean air, and clean water. Local biodiversity is key to protecting these resources in your community. Communities with plentiful and diverse natural areas enjoy a higher quality of life and a healthier environment.
What is local biodiversity
Local biodiversity is a measure of different types of life in an area. Ecosystems like rainforests are known for having very high levels of biodiversity. And deserts tend to have fewer species overall. However, within a desert ecosystem, biodiversity is higher in areas that are undisturbed or contain additional resources. And in the rainforest, areas closer to towns and roads will be less biologically diverse than average.
Measuring biodiversity is difficult, because it includes plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, and all the kingdoms of life. To measure biodiversity, scientists use species richness. Species richness is the number of species that are found in an area. Scientists make a list of all the species that have been observed in the study area and count them.
Comparing species richness across ecosystem types doesn’t account for differences in resources. So, scientists will sometimes use a biodiversity index that can be applied across ecosystems.
Examples of local biodiversity
In different parts of the globe, biodiversity looks different. In the deep south, longleaf pine savannas are home to species that can only live in the sandy, sunny forests, like the gopher tortoise.
The Appalachian Mountains have numerous cold mountain streams that provide habitat for trout and hellbenders.
Along the West Coast, redwood forests contain rare birds like the marbled murrelet.
What are the benefits of local and global biodiversity
Global biodiversity is important because many species play a role in natural processes that benefit humans. From clean air and water to the productivity of soil for agriculture, we rely on biological systems to support life on our planet – life that includes us!
When a species goes extinct, its role in the ecosystem is sometimes left empty. In some cases, another species can step in to do the same role, but not in the same way.
As the number of species on Earth drops each year, how much longer can the globe support life? Ecological systems and processes are threatened by every extinction.
Why is biodiversity important?
Biological diversity allows species to work together to increase the productivity of an area. In nature, competition and cooperation are the defining forces. Greater biological diversity increases the opportunities for both competition among similar species and cooperation between species that play different roles.
Greater cultural diversity can make a city more lively and productive. Similarly, greater biological diversity helps to maximize the productivity in an area. This productivity is measured in the form of ecosystem services.
Ecosystem services include things like food, clean water, clean air, flood prevention, recreation opportunities, and resistance to extreme weather events. One of the clearest examples of ecosystem services is the pollination of farm crops by native bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.
How to protect biodiversity
Unfortunately, Earth has now entered it’s 6th mass extinction event. Meaning we are losing species faster than at any other time in recorded history. Global biodiversity outlook analyses show a major decline. So, how can we protect biodiversity? Conservation groups and events like the convention on biological diversity are working to do just that.
University research findings on the subject show us that traditional knowledge and local communities can inform a multinational strategic plan. As we search for ways to improve the global biodiversity outlook, science and data are the key to a sustainable future.
Why does biodiversity need to be protected?
Species extinctions are happening at an unprecedented rate due to human activity. In many places, local biodiversity trends are not great. And in some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems, like the Amazon Rainforest, human activity is destroying the remaining habitat that species depend on. Species have fewer places to live because land is developed or converted to agricultural uses, like pasture.
In many countries, indigenous peoples are fighting to protect both biological diversity and their way of life. Colonialist attitudes and markets change the use and extraction of biological resources. Competing interests, especially in the Global South, have led to a decrease in cultural diversity and biodiversity change. In addition to species loss, globalization has also introduced non native species. Many local communities are losing traditional knowledge while the sudden biodiversity change makes sustainability more difficult than ever.
According to time series data, the implications of biodiversity change are frightening. The global biodiversity outlook is not good. And the research indicates that as the abundance of species declines, so will the productivity of nature.
What does local biodiversity depend on?
The path forward is clear. To protect global biodiversity, ambitious conservation efforts are needed. Renowned conservationist E.O. Wilson proposed protecting at least half of the planet in his groundbreaking book, Half Earth. And the Aichi targets propose a similar, though less ambitious effort along with economic and political contributions into the future.
What is a protected area?
The definition of a protected areas varies by location. Protection can mean the designation of parks and forests, or the use of specific tools like conservation easements. Ultimately, the right kind of protection is up to local communities. Spatial comparisons show that the local biodiversity outlooks improve in protected areas.
How to boost biological diversity
Protection is not always a viable strategy, because biodiversity may already be degraded on a site, especially in the Global North. Many areas need restoration efforts. University and NGO research has shown a positive response in species richness following restoration efforts.
Creating natural habitat at home
Native ecology is the key to making progress in protecting local biodiversity. Many government agencies and NGOs hope to meet goals like the aichi targets creating a strategic plan. But individual landowners are able to treat their property like protected areas today. Local communities and indigenous peoples are connected to the land. And these groups have a vested interest in protecting nature. Ethical stewardship of the land can provide contributions that go beyond political and economic forces.
Rewilding can have a greater impact on local biodiversity depending on the existing level of development. Rewilding is a way to bring nature into local communities and cities where it has been removed. Establishment of small pockets of nature is simple and cheap. Landowners should plant native plants on their land. Native plants evolved to be perfectly adapted to support the existing local biological diversity.
Parks and protected areas
Much of the history of conservation in North America has been reactionary. The science surrounding species loss is mostly reactionary as well. In the United States, parks account for most public interest in conservation. Every state has a department of parks that provide protection for these recreation areas. Many states also have forestry, wildlife, and environmental agencies.
There seems to be a mismatch between the local demand for natural areas and their abundance. Most recreational natural spaces are in remote, rugged terrain. The accessibility of nature for the average American seems to be far below what is needed.
And any public recreation site that is easy to access for a large populated area tends to be overcrowded. As development increases in the future, access to additional recreational areas is desperately needed. Governments will struggle to acquire and manage additional land. Private landowners need access to resources that help them to protect and manage their land. And not just for recreational opportunities, but also to protect the ecological resources on private land.
Local biodiversity progress
Efforts by conservation groups and government agencies have sometimes been successful at saving individual species from extinction. But the implications of climate change on biological systems have not been tested. And we’ve been unable to slow down the Anthropocene extinction event.
We can’t predict the future. Additional time series data and summary analysis will help science to understand the potential futures of our environment. It has been difficult to predict the effects of climate change, but so far they have been very concerning.
Save local biodiversity now
We cannot wait for definitive science before we act to save our planet. Nor can we hope for a technological answer. Conservation of our remaining biological resources is critical, and restoration can boost depleted local biodiversity. Protected areas need additional funding and support, and every lawn is a potential restoration site.
The average homeowner has opportunities to boost their lawn’s biological value. And individuals can contribute to citizen science efforts to improve landscape-scale analyses by their state or local university. But the cultural pressure for development is immense.
We need to change
Housing, shopping, roads, farms, and warehouses are all in high demand in many places. Our priorities need to change. Market forces cannot continue to control how our land is used. Business as usual is no longer leading us toward progress, but rather toward a global ecological collapse. Nature must be front and center in our communities.
Indigenous peoples have largely been ignored in the conservation and restoration communities. And while many efforts are starting to seek contributions from local communities, both local conservation groups and the global community should look to indigenous peoples in their search for ways to live sustainably.