Biodiversity Loss: Getting the Point Across

by John J. Berger, Ph.D and Lani Maher

According to a report by Dr. Peter Raven, President of the International Botanical Congress, the current extinction rate is now approaching 1,000 times the background rate and may climb to 10,000 times background during the next century, if present trends continue. At the latter rate, one-third to two-thirds of all the Earth’s species will be lost in the next 200 years. Raven also states that vast numbers of unknown plants, animals, and other organisms are currently being lost before they are even recognized. Only about 1.6 million organisms out of a conservatively estimated 7-10 million in existence have been scientifically identified.

Forest ecosystems provide much of the world’s overall biodiversity and are therefore a main focus of efforts to conserve biodiversity. While biodiversity is important for the survival of species and ecosystems, it is also important for human survival. Not only are we dependent on the environmental services provided by ecosystems, but we also depend on medicines derived from forests. Those medicines account for forty percent of all commercially sold pharmaceutical preparations, and many more have yet to be discovered. The importance of biodiversity to our everyday lives also has yet to be fully conveyed to the public.

Most ecologists and biologists agree that biodiversity is a key factor in determining an ecosystem’s resilience, adaptability, and chances of long-term survival. Similarly, worldwide biodiversity loss is often in the forefront of climate change and deforestation discussions. However, when it comes to international treaties and environmental policymaking, biodiversity conservation has not been appropriately prioritized, says David Dickson, Director of the Science and Development Network (a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing information about science and technology for the developing world). Dickson believes that the disparity may be due primarily to a lack of clear and constant communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public.

Efforts to conserve biodiversity “face formidable challenges in persuading political leaders and the public of the urgent need to take action,” Dickson says. “[A]t root is the conflict between the need to radically change our use of natural resources and the desire to maintain current forms of economic growth in both developed and developing countries.”

While compelling scientific evidence exists on the importance of biodiversity and its continued decline, more emphasis must be placed on communicating that evidence in a way that the general public and policymakers can understand. Building public support is crucial for the passage of environmental laws protecting biodiversity. Getting the message across to policymakers is vital for the development and implementation of sound conservation policy.

To read David Dickson’s full article, titled Biodiversity Loss Matters, and Communication is Crucial, please click here.

For more information on strategies for forest protection and on forest biodiversity and its global importance, please see Forests Forever: Their Ecology, Restoration, and Protection by Dr. John Berger.