Go outside, and stand still. Chances are, you’ll see wildlife. From your own yard, you may notice spring warblers flying above, you may see a hummingbird’s impressive courtship display, you may find a native plant flowering next to the sidewalk, or detect bumblebee queens starting a new hive. These sights can provide some happiness during the tragedy of the current coronavirus pandemic. You can celebrate these species in your own backyard on International Biodiversity Day on May 22.
Biological diversity — the diversity of life in all its forms, from genes to species to ecosystems — is all around us. It’s even inside us: human gut microbia, numbering in excess of 1,000 species-level phylotypes, are now studied using ecological principles. In some areas, it’s easy to detect biodiversity. Perhaps you have had the opportunity to visit Yellowstone National Park where large mammals still roam. Maybe you have been in a wetland teeming with life — a chorus of frogs loudly chirping, hundreds of birds flying through the air, insects hitting your face. But those places hold only remnants of biodiversity that used to be common. Based on accounts from early biologists, many areas today retain only a shadow of their former richness.
Biologists and amateur citizen scientists have long been documenting species distributions and abundances during events such as the Christmas Bird Count and Breeding Bird Survey. Bioblitzes —events where volunteers survey certain areas for living species — are becoming popular and, with new technologies like the eBird and iNaturalist mobile apps, it is easier to involve the public in biodiversity monitoring.
New technologies also make it easier to monitor certain species or groups of species at large scales: environmental DNA sampling can detect aquatic species, DNA can help describe soil microbial communities, and bat acoustic detectors can systematically document bats. Monitoring is essential to assess the state of biodiversity. In fact, monitoring has exposed the overall and drastic decline of biodiversity during the Anthropocene. But monitoring can also help wildlife biologists understand which conservation measures are working.
Bold actions are necessary to save what is left of nature. Studies suggest that about 50% of the earth needs to be protected. Two prominent initiatives promoting this concept are the Half Earth Project launched by E.O. Wilson and Nature Needs Half, an international coalition of people and organizations calling for a ‘Global Deal for Nature.’ The Beyond Aichi Taskforce is formulating new global conservation targets scaling up those set at the Convention of Biological Diversity in 2010. The taskforce developed a framework, which identifies three global conditions for biodiversity conservation around the world: farms and cities, shared landscapes and large wild areas. Depending on the condition, targeted conservation actions and production practices can be developed, but the aim overall is to protect about half the planet.
If you are interested in learning more about biodiversity, be sure to check out the TWS Biological Diversity Working Group website and Facebook page and celebrate International Biodiversity Day on May 22! TWS members may join the Working Group for just $5.
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