Biodiversity is on the decline and has been for years. Sadly, WWF's Living Planet Report for 2022 indicates an alarming 69 percent decrease in global populations (of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians) since 1970.
This is only the beginning. Data-backed projections indicate that, unless we collectively make significant environmental changes, the problem will only accelerate. NatureServe's report Biodiversity in Focus: United States Edition reveals that 40 percent of animals are at risk of extinction—and plant life is not much better off, with one-third of plant species also at risk.
With reports of endangered and extinct species on the rise, there's no denying that biodiversity loss is the new reality, but that doesn't mean the public is ready to take action. After all, preserving the environment means changing the ecologically damaging habits we take for granted.
Sometimes, however, the best motivation is education. Hence, our need to answer a critical question: why is biodiversity conservation important? Below, we provide valuable insight, including details on the far-reaching benefits of biodiversity—and the value of pursuing an environment-oriented degree (such as a master’s degree in biology, science leadership, or horticulture) and career so you can be part of the solution.
What Is Biodiversity?
Short for biological diversity, the concept of biodiversity refers to the variation that exists among the numerous plants, animals, and even bacteria that make up our natural world. The Convention on Biological Diversity also highlights the many ecosystems that support various living organisms as a crucial component of biodiversity. The American Museum of Natural History's Center for Biodiversity and Conservation adds that the concept also encompasses "evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes that sustain life."
Why Biodiversity Is Important
When biodiversity exists, the world enjoys a wide range of organisms and ecosystems. We experience a wealth of benefits, ranging from medical breakthroughs to improved mental wellness and even a stronger economy. Specific benefits worth considering include:
1. Food Security
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) regards biodiversity as crucial for "safeguarding global food security." Specifically, FAO's Director-General José Graziano da Silva explains that, when biodiversity is lacking, the critical plants and animals that make up the modern food chain become more vulnerable to pests and disease.
This, in turn, places even more pressure on an ever-shrinking array of species involved in agriculture and food production, reducing the likelihood that, in the event of a disaster, other sources of nutrition will be available.
Pollinators play an important and often underestimated role in this equation. As their numbers diminish, it will become increasingly difficult to produce the fruits, vegetables, and nuts that we rely on for sustenance. Scientists estimate that over one-third of global crops rely on animal pollinators (including thousands of species of bees, butterflies, moths, and some small mammals). Manual pollination measures can help, but they are a lot less efficient when, as FoodUnfolded puts it, our "miracle workers disappear from [the] landscape."
2. Job Creation
In addition, biodiversity generates exciting job opportunities that keep professionals engaged while also allowing them to provide a stable living. From forestry to agriculture and even medicine, many industries rely on the wealth of plant and animal life to produce both profits and jobs. As biodiversity suffers, however, so do businesses. And as profits diminish, fewer jobs will be available to employees at all levels.
A notable silver lining: by expanding the effort to boost biodiversity, many businesses, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations can create purpose-driven, fulfilling jobs that are beneficial for the economy and the environment. The report Decent Work in Nature-based Solutions suggests that by investing in strategies designed to "protect, conserve, restore, sustainably use and manage natural ... ecosystems," we can produce 20 million jobs in addition to the estimated 75 million positions in nature-based solutions (NbS) that already exist.
3. Climate Change Resistance
Climate change and biodiversity loss are inextricably linked. Climate change, which is largely caused by human activities that increase greenhouse gas emissions and decrease carbon capture, fuels biodiversity loss. Many species can only withstand certain climate conditions, and few can adapt quickly enough to keep up with the rapid pace of climate change. Greater biodiversity can preserve some natural habitats.
Dr. Adriana De Palma of the UK's Natural History Museum explains, "Species are being forced to move out of areas where they've evolved for millions of years. Climate change is making those areas uninhabitable for them ... because we've already taken away so much space from nature, sometimes they have nowhere to run."
4. Treatment of Diseases
The medical profession relies on biodiversity to develop promising new treatments. As this diminishes, so do the raw materials required for effective drug discovery and biotechnology breakthroughs.
According to the US Forest Service, 40 percent of Western drugs are derived from plants that humans have used for centuries, including the majority of today's top-selling prescription drugs. Many potential treatments could lie in wait within diverse habitats, but not if we decimate those habitats in the meantime. As a report for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) explains, "The untapped potential for future drug discovery and medical insights from biodiversity is vast, but is diminishing because of biodiversity loss."
5. Human Protection
We have touched on the many manifestations of biodiversity on the human population, ranging from the food supply to climate change and even our economy. In general, a sustainable and biologically diverse world is one in which humans are better positioned to thrive.
This goes beyond business and economic concerns to affect our general health and well-being. A growing body of research suggests that exposure to (and engagement with) diverse habitats can have a hugely positive impact on our mental health. When we are part of a diverse and healthy ecosystem, we thrive—and when this disappears, so do our livelihoods, our health, and our quality of life.
6. Economic Impact
Biodiversity loss arguably constitutes an impending business crisis. This concern is most urgent in the agricultural sector, but worrisome business implications exist across many other sectors. According to research highlighted by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the economic value imparted by biodiversity (in the form of water and air filtration, carbon storage, and, of course, food provisioning) totals over an annual $150 trillion—more than double the world's GDP.
As experts at BCG point out, ecosystem declines dramatically increase business costs, often in the form of rising expenses related to raw materials. Supply chain disruptions can also occur, leading to escalating costs and an element of uncertainty that makes forecasting difficult.
Moving forward, reputational concerns must also be considered. As consumers grow more alarmed by the growing threats of biodiversity loss, they will be more inclined to hold business leaders accountable. Organizations that demonstrate clear efforts to preserve biodiversity will see greater engagement and loyalty from eco-conscious consumers, who are increasingly committed to voting with their pocketbooks.
By now, you should understand that there is no simple answer to our original question: Why is biodiversity conservation important? Biodiversity impacts every aspect of our daily lives along with the vibrant communities and ecosystems in which we reside. Its loss is a true tragedy, but preservation is not out of reach: through targeted protection strategies, we can safeguard vulnerable species and act as the stewards our planet so desperately needs.
Learn More Today
Are you concerned about biodiversity loss and determined to make a difference? Anybody can contribute to environmental efforts, but your impact could be far more substantial if you seek the targeted education required to get involved in cutting-edge research and compelling public initiatives.
Get started by seeking our Master of Biological Sciences, Master of Professional Studies in Applied Sciences Leadership, Master of Professional Studies in Horticulture, or Leadership for Science Professionals certificate through the University of Minnesota's College of Continuing and Professional Studies. Welcoming, flexible, and career-focused, our programs empower you to design your educational journey as you see fit. Reach out today to learn more.
Living Planet Report
Convention of Biological Diversity
US Forest Service
American Museum of Natural History
Natural History Museum
OECD, Biodiversity: Finance and the Economic and Business Case for Action
UN Environment Programme