Feature: The state and purpose of biological diversity
By Art Contreras (DENR)
Legazpi City (29 August) -- Biological Diversity is the total variety of life on Earth, such as trees, flowers, birds, insects, mammals, fishes, worms, seaweeds, microorganisms,and all other living forms.
The natural and basic group of living things is a species. Biologists have now catalogued around two million species in our planet. Some scientists have suggested that there are about five million kinds of plants, animals, fungi, bacteria and other living things on Earth. Others say that there could be as many as 100 million.
Many species become extinct before they are identified. Extinction occurs when there are no longer any living individuals of a species left. Biodiversity loss is higher in tropical rainforest where there is high concentration of species of living things in the area.
Estimates in the number of species becoming extinct vary from 50 to 200 species every day or 20,000 to 70,000 per year.
Scientists opined that current living organisms represent only one percent (1%) of all the species that ever existed, 99% of which are permanently gone.
Professor Peter D. Ward, an Earth geology researcher of the University of Washington, U.S.A. reported that five times in the past 500 million years, most of the world's life forms have simply ceased to exist. The first such event happened at the end of the Ordovician period, some 443 million years ago. The second which took place 374 million years ago, was near the close of the Devonian period. The third and biggest of them all was the Great Dying at the end of the Permian 251 million years ago, destroying 90 percent of ocean dwellers and 70 percent of plants, animals and insects on land. Worldwide death happened again 210 million years ago, ending the Triassic period, and the last major extinction was 65 million years ago, the times of the giant dinosaurs, concluding the period of the Cretaceaus.
We are now in the sixth period of mass extinction of living species. While the large scale annahilation of species in the past was a slow process and Nature-induced, the present massive extinction of species is super fast and caused by human activities. Climate change and global warming alone caused by man generated air pollution is conservatively calculated to eliminate one million species of living things in less than 100 years.
In the Philippines, the rate of biodiversity loss is one of the fastest in the world. While the Philippines is considered a mega-diverse country in terms of endemism and variety of living things, we are considered "the hottest of the hotspots" due to extremely rapid rate of biodiversity losses. To illustrate, when the Spaniards first came to the Philippines in 1521, about 90% of the total land area was covered by forests. Forest cover decreased to about 70% by 1900, 49% by 1950, and 18% by 1994.
The present rate of forest cover loss is 180,000 hectares per year. All the national parks of the Philippines have been degraded to various degrees by human encroachment, "to the point that about half are no longer biologically important."
The situation is similar in other ecosystems. Of our original mangrove forest, only 27% remains. About 95% of our 2,700 kilometers stretch of coral reefs, the most extensive in the world, are in bad condition.
A study made by Dr. Symour Sohmer of Bishop Museum of Honolulu, U.S.A. and collaborated by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources showed that about 60% of endemic Philippine flora are now extinct. In a related study, 592 out of the country's 1,137 endemic species of amphibians, birds and mammals have been declared as threatened or endangered.
The major cause of biodiversity loss is habitat destruction. As habitats of biodiversity are destroyed, many of the species vanished with them.
Why is biological diversity so important to us? Why in the first place are there so much variety and prevalence of living species in our planet. What is the real purpose of biological diversity?
These intricate questions could be answered in terms of material benefits and services of natural resources and ecosystems constituted by living forms.
But there is a higher, spiritual purpose for the Divine creation of biodiversity, but it is quite hard to comprehend.
Biodiversity provides a hierarchy of materials benefits, ecosystem services and achieve spiritual or transcendental purpose.
The material benefits from biodiversity are food, medicine, materials for clothing and shelter, fossilized fuel to run our cars and machines, and the many, many products derived from plants and animals and other living organisms that sustain our daily needs and economic development.
On the upper scale is the ecosystem services constituted by living things so our planet Earth is made habitable and life becomes possible. The workings of our planet as a whole and its climatic equilibrium depends to a large extend on the regulation of important elements such as water, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus which functions in cycles due to the workings of ecosystems and biodiversity. The processes of life sustainance itself depends on the smooth functioning of the ecosystems and its biodiversity.
A few examples of ecosystem services are, forest as a natural catchment for fresh water, which is essential for all life forms to exist; the plant kingdom produces oxygen which are needed by animals to oxidize food nutrients into energy which are vital in the metabolism and growth of animal cells. On the other hand, animals discharge carbon dioxide which is needed by plant in the manufacture of its food, thru the process of photosynthesis; insects pollinate plant seeds so it could multiply and distribute them to far away places; carbon dioxide equilibrium in the atmosphere is maintain thru the massive absorption of this element by phytoplanktons, marine algae and terrestrial plants; Micro-organisms decompose dead animals and convert them into fertilizers of plants and food crops, likewise microorganisms are responsible for the digestion of food into nutrients and enzymes in humans and animals, without micro-organisms in our stomach the food we eat cannot be digested. There are many other ecosystem services provided thru our biological diversity.
In 1977, a team of ecologists and economists estimated that the monetary value of Nature's services to society at about 33 trillion US dollars each year.
On the highest scale, and could be the most important objective of biological diversity is to achieve its spiritual purpose. To be able to appreciate this concept would require an intuitive knowledge, deep thinking and some background on Quantum Physics, the science of sub-atomic particles.
It is in this century that scientists have learn to understand the fundamental structure of Nature. Thru experiments and research, Quantum Physicists have learned that aside from the atoms which is the basic structure of all things, there are still many minute sub-atomic particles that comprise the atoms, which are magnetic, flowing energy system that is connected with all things and everything else. And imbedded in this energy system is an Intelligent Consciousness that guides all beings to follow certain Nature Laws, and benefit from the Implicate Whole where everything is a part.
It is the presence of the Intelligent Consciousness in the energy system of all things that make it possible for the unity despite the diversity of beings, the capacity for self-organization and order in the universe, evolution from simple to complex beings and attainment of self-perfection in all created life forms. Those living things who do not adhere to the Design of the Intelligent Consciousness are ease out of the Implicate Whole thru diseases and death, while those who live in harmony with Nature and follow Nature's way will attain abundant grace, self-fulfillment, and long life, thru the full support of Nature and the universal energy field.
We must therefore protect biological diversity in the best way we can, because it is our life support-system. (DENR/PIA) [top]