Over the last few decades, biodiversity conservation has been increasingly considered a subject of international concern. From international treaties such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals1 and the Aichi targets2, to international legislation such as the Habitats Directive and Bern Convention in Europe and the Endangered Species Act in the United States. Let’s briefly explore why we choose to conserve biodiversity.
Reason #1: A utilitarian perspective
A pillar of the ecological sciences is that species interact with each other in many different and complex ways, both directly and indirectly. This means that the decline or extinction of even just one species may have significant and detrimental impacts on the conservation of a whole array of other species3. On this note, the human-induced extinction or decline of a single species has the potential to offset the natural balance of a whole ecosystem, which may eventually cost us the very services that we derive from it and on which we rely, both economically and culturally. From this optic, the conservation of every single species, and thus of biodiversity, is of highest value to people.
Insects are responsible for fertilising plants, which is essential for maintaining our food supply. Image Credit: https://fxn.ws/2k0D1c8
The ways through which we benefit from conserving biodiversity are innumerable, some involve the natural pollination of our crops by insects, which provides us with our food4, drug discovery from wild species which is critical for health care, disease prevention, and wellness5, the economic value of ecotourism6 through which countries can boost their socio-economic status and improve the living condition and health of their citizens, and many more. In 2005, the total economic value of natural pollination worldwide amounted to ca. €153 billion, which represented 9.5% of the value of the world agricultural production at the time7. Similarly, nature reserves can bring millions into the pockets of states. For instance, already at the beginning of the 1990s the annual recreational value of wildlife viewing in Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya was 7.5–15 million USD6. Biodiversity is a treasure for the countries that look after it.
Reason #2: A practical perspective
Overlooking the conservation of any one species would be hazardous because it would lead us to a practical dilemma. That is: who decides what to conserve, and when? Once we consciously allow the extinction of a species, this would open a vicious circle, leaving us to deal with questions such as: where do we draw the line? For this, it’s always better to protect and work for the preservation of all nature, rather than to cherry-pick.
Reason #3: A moral perspective
As we are the most highly-cognitive species on the planet, isn’t it in our moral duty to ensure the conservation of other species, which have dwelled Earth for way longer than we have? Aldo Leopold was amongst the firsts to introduce the concept of a stewardship of nature, stirring society’s ways away from a reckless destruction and exploitation of natural landscapes8. As a species, humans have been around for roughly 300,000 years9, yet we are driving to extinction species that have been around for hundreds of millions of years. We are currently causing the sixth mass extinction of wildlife on Earth, as we risk losing over a million species over the next few decades, mostly due to habitat loss, overharvesting and climate change10.
Aldo Leopold in a photo. Image credits: https://bit.ly/2j7XE3N
Ultimately, whether we choose to conserve nature for its intrinsic or extrinsic value, or both, one thing is for sure: we need to act now. Delaying our action any longer will inevitably take the choice away from us – irreversibly so.
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- Klein, A.M., Vaissiere, B.E., Cane, J.H., Steffan-Dewenter, I., Cunningham, S.A., Kremen, C. and Tscharntke, T., 2006. Importance of pollinators in changing landscapes for world crops. Proceedings of the royal society B: biological sciences, 274(1608), pp.303-313. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2006.3721
- Neergheen-Bhujun, V., Awan, A.T., Baran, Y., Bunnefeld, N., Chan, K., dela Cruz, T.E., Egamberdieva, D., Elsässer, S., Johnson, M.V.V., Komai, S. and Konevega, A.L., 2017. Biodiversity, drug discovery, and the future of global health: Introducing the biodiversity to biomedicine consortium, a call to action. Journal of global health, 7(2). https://doi.org/10.7189/jogh.07.020304
- Navrud, S. and Mungatana, E.D., 1994. Environmental valuation in developing countries: the recreational value of wildlife viewing. Ecological economics, 11(2), pp.135-151. https://doi.org/10.1016/0921-8009(94)90024-8
- Gallai, N., Salles, J.M., Settele, J. and Vaissière, B.E., 2009. Economic valuation of the vulnerability of world agriculture confronted with pollinator decline. Ecological economics, 68(3), pp.810-821. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2008.06.014