Ecosystems, interdependent webs of living organisms and natural resources, are essential to sustain all life on earth. Throughout earth’s history, healthy ecosystems have usually been resilient enough to adapt to gradual environmental change. Existing species may evolve or new species move in, in response to small changes in the habitat without collapse of the entire system.
Biodiversity, the range and variation of species in an ecosystem is a major factor in its resilience. If the environment changes and some organisms can no longer thrive, others will take their place. Many of the species vital to healthy ecosystems may appear insignificant. Insects for example play an essential role in pollinating food crops.
The sheer variety of species and habitats on the planet is vast. This is of vital importance because it underpins the functioning of the ecosystems on which we depend for water and food, health and recreation.
The importance of biodiversity is often undervalued even though it helps humanity by:
- regulating the chemistry of the atmosphere and water supply;
- recycling nutrients crucial to the maintenance of the earth’s soil fertility;
- providing ecological services such as the mass pollination of the world’s food crops; and
- supplying genetic variants for crop development and the creation of new medicines.
Where elements of biodiversity are lost, ecosystems become less resilient to sudden pressures such as disease and climatic extremes.
Read more about ecosystems and biodiversity.