Why care about biodiversity?

Photo: Jana Malinek

Biodiversity. It’s a term tossed around often enough, but what does it actually mean?

Put simply, biodiversity means the variety of life on earth. Just like you wouldn’t want to eat only green beans for the rest of your life; you don’t want a planet with only one species. Neither is a healthy choice. Like our bodies, our planet needs different plants, animals, and ecosystems, to thrive. It’s all interconnected, and works together to make up one whole, healthy world.

At Wildsight, we focus on biodiversity in all our conservation work, seeking to maintain or reinforce fully functioning natural ecosystems. We target threats that could undermine the range and diversity of biodiversity in any given area.

Threats to biodiversity

Our world is burdened with an ever-increasing human footprint.

“Threats to biodiversity include activities impacting water, land, air and all interdependent life – the loss of species and habitat, the loss of species diversity and natural ecosystem function,” lists John Bergenske, Conservation Director.

Sometimes, we zero in on one species at risk and talk about that animal. The idea of saving a caribou is simple to grasp; charismatic megafauna like caribou or grizzly bears make for an appealing image in pleas for protection.

But the reality is, endangered species cannot be saved in isolation. Renowned photographer, writer and wildlife tracker David Moskowitz, who wrote a book on caribou in the Inland Temperate Rainforest, says we cannot just save one species.

“In the past, we said, ‘oh, we have to protect this endangered species’. Well, it’s not about a species. It’s not about caribou. It’s always about an entire ecosystem,” says Moskowitz.

Inland Temperate Rainforest. Photo: David Moskowitz

The Inland Temperate Rainforest is filled with species big and small. The biodiversity found in this globally unique ecosystem has still not been documented in full. Moskowitz shares that on one of his many excursions into the forest, he witnessed a newly-discovered species of jumping slug. On another, he photographed a type of lichen only found in this rainforest. That’s biodiversity – towering cedars and humble slugs, lichen and wolverines, caribou and alpine dandelions – all found in one ecosystem, all dependent on each other and the landscape around them to remain intact.

Biodiversity represents the knowledge honed by species over thousands of years, about how to survive in unique environments. Sadly, we are now affecting those environments so rapidly, species that once thrived in specific landscapes are under threat.

When an area starts to lose native plant or animal life, it’s a warning that others will soon follow. Dwindling caribou are the canary in the coal mine. If we want to save our biodiversity, we must stop the destruction of their habitat through direct assault (logging, mining, other resource extraction), and less direct assaults, such as increasing numbers of recreational users who encroach further into the wilderness and in greater numbers.

There are so many studies, conferences, forums, planning sessions and programs to tackle biodiversity across the globe, you’d think we would have this problem solved. But dismal outlooks by scientists show that while we have identified the problems, we are still not implementing solutions. This January, 17 experts authored a report that lays bare the state of the planet. And it’s not a pretty picture.

“Humanity is causing a rapid loss of biodiversity and, with it, Earth’s ability to support complex life,” the report begins. “While suggested solutions abound, the current scale of their implementation does not match the relentless progression of biodiversity loss and other existential threats tied to the continuous expansion of the human enterprise.”

Photo: Jana Malinek

Protecting biodiversity

The grim outlook only renews our sense of urgency here at Wildsight.

“Biodiversity is fundamental to the survival of all life on planet earth,” sums up Bergenske. “As we lose biodiversity, we gradually lose the highly integrated natural systems that are necessary to sustain humanity and all life.”

All our areas of focus, from the Southern Rockies Wildlife corridor to the Inland Temperate Rainforest, the mighty Rockies and the stunning Purcells and Selkirks – stand out as biodiversity hotspots of global significance.

“Old growth forests, riparian ecosystems, grasslands, ungulate winter ranges and the diverse habitats critical to species across the landscape all require attention,” says Bergenske. “Because of its particular geographic position, this Canada-US transborder region represents one of the most strategically important regions in maintaining ecological connectivity on the North American continent.”

For example, the Crown of the Continent (within which the East Kootenay is core) currently safeguards the greatest diversity of ungulate and carnivore species in North America and is recognized to be of global conservation significance.

We often steer clear of terms like biodiversity in our articles; we don’t want to lose people with terminology that might not be fully understood. But rest assured, biodiversity is not just a word at Wildsight. It underlies all that we do, all that we fight for, and all that we ask you to stand up for. From mighty caribou herds ambling underneath towering old growth trees, to microscopic critters and curiosities, we need to work to preserve the planet’s rich diversity of life.

Want to learn more about biodiversity? Here’s a few articles we recommend:

Photo: Harvey Locke