Value of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
Biological diversity - or biodiversity - is the term given to the variety of life on Earth and the natural patterns it forms. The biodiversity we see today is the fruit of billions of years of evolution, shaped by natural processes and, increasingly, by the influence of humans. It forms the web of life of which we are an integral part and upon which we so fully depend.
This diversity is often understood in terms of the wide variety of plants, animals and microorganisms. So far, about 1.75 million species have been identified, mostly small creatures such as insects. Scientists reckon that there are actually about 13 million species, though estimates range from three to 100 million.
Biodiversity also includes genetic differences within each species - for example, between varieties of crops and breeds of livestock. Chromosomes, genes, and DNA-the building blocks of life-determine the uniqueness of each individual and each species.
Yet another aspect of biodiversity is the variety of ecosystems such as those that occur in deserts, forests, wetlands, mountains, lakes, rivers, and agricultural landscapes. In each ecosystem, living creatures, including humans, form a community, interacting with one another and with the air, water, and soil around them.
The Value of Biodiversity
- A network of marine protected areas, with the aim of conserving 20%-30% of the seas and oceans, could cost between $5bn and $19bn, but help to safeguard $70bn to $80bn worth of fish catches, and the provision of marine ecosystem services valued at $4.5 to $6.7 trillion annually.
- The annual economic median value of fisheries supported by mangrove habitats in the Gulf of California has been estimated at $37,500 per hectare of mangrove fringe. The value of mangroves as coastal protection may be as much as $300,000 per kilometre of coastline.
- Nature-based tourism in Africa generates approximately the same amount of revenue as farming, forestry and fisheries combined.
- The national parks of Canada store 4.43 gigatonnes (billion metric tonnes) of carbon, a service worth between $11bn and $2.2 trillion depending on the price of carbon in the market. The protected areas of Mexico store 2.45 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent – more than five years of Mexico’s carbon dioxide emissions in 2004, and valued at $12.2 billion.
- A report in 2003 estimated the total value of annual benefits of the United Kingdom’s forests to its people to be around £1 billion. They included recreation (£393 m), biodiversity (£386 m), landscape (£150 m) and carbon sequestration (£94 m). The estimate, carried out by Britain’s Forestry Commission, did not include values such as the contribution of forests to the supply and quality of fresh water, the cleansing of pollutants from the air, and reduction of soil erosion.
- The Great Barrier Reef is estimated to contribute nearly 6 billion Australian Dollars to the country’s economy, counting only the value of tourism, other recreational activities and commercial fishing.
It is the combination of life forms and their interactions with each other and with the rest of the environment that has made Earth a uniquely habitable place for humans. Biodiversity provides a large number of goods and services that sustain our lives.
Protecting biodiversity is in our self-interest. Biological resources are the pillars upon which we build civilizations. Nature's products support such diverse industries as agriculture, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, pulp and paper, horticulture, construction and waste treatment. The loss of biodiversity threatens our food supplies, opportunities for recreation and tourism, and sources of wood, medicines and energy. It also interferes with essential ecological functions.
Our need for pieces of nature we once ignored is often important and unpredictable. Time after time we have rushed back to nature's cupboard for cures to illnesses or for infusions of tough genes from wild plants to save our crops from pest outbreaks. What's more, the vast array of interactions among the various components of biodiversity makes the planet habitable for all species, including humans. Our personal health, and the health of our economy and human society, depends on the continuous supply of various ecological services that would be extremely costly or impossible to replace. These natural services are so varied as to be almost infinite. For example, it would be impractical to replace, to any large extent, services such as pest control performed by various creatures feeding on one another, or pollination performed by insects and birds going about their everyday business.
"Goods and Services" provided by ecosystems include:
- Provision of food, fuel and fibre
- Provision of shelter and building materials
- Purification of air and water
- Detoxification and decomposition of wastes
- Stabilization and moderation of the Earth's climate
- Moderation of floods, droughts, temperature extremes and the forces of wind
- Generation and renewal of soil fertility, including nutrient cycling
- Pollination of plants, including many crops
- Control of pests and diseases
- Maintenance of genetic resources as key inputs to crop varieties and livestock breeds, medicines, and other products
- Cultural and aesthetic benefits
- Ability to adapt to change