Image by Mike Leveille
The beauty and genus of a work of art may be reconceived, though its first material expression be destroyed; a vanished harmony may yet again inspire the composer; but when the last individual of a race of living things breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again. – William Beebe
There are many misconceptions about biological diversity and modern extinctions so we will explore some of these ideas here:
Misconception #1 – Species have always gone extinct so we do not need to worry about a few animals or plants disappearing. It is true that extinction is a natural process but it is the rate of extinctions that is of major concern. According to the UN Environment Programme, the Earth is in the midst of a mass extinction of life. Scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours. This is nearly 1,000 times the "natural" or "background" rate.
Misconception #2 – Losing a species does not affect humans. Do you remember the game Ker-Plunk? The game consists of a clear plastic tube, 30 thin sticks, and 32 marbles. The idea is to pull out as many sticks as you can without letting any marbles fall to the bottom. Well, imagine we are one of the marbles. How many species are holding us up? Plants and phytoplankton produce our breathable air. Our food and medicine come from the rich biological resources of the Earth. Decomposers like bacteria and fungi help to produce soil so we can grow our food. Worms and arthropods process this soil. Bees, wasps, birds, and bats pollinate plants. Some types of phytoplankton are responsible for a chemical substance called DMS that forms clouds over our oceans. This affects our weather and global climate.
Misconception #3 – Environmental news is all bad news! Absolutely not! Global networks of youth from the Ottawa-based Biodiversitymatters.org and the GYBN are actively involved with the Convention on Biological Diversity. In 2010, world organizations and governments met in Nagoya, Japan to discuss solutions to the biodiversity crisis. Youth presented an Accord on Biodiversity to present their ideas and fears. There is another gathering of the COP-MOP in Hyderabad, India this October. It is important to stress that many species have been brought back from near extinction by dedicated biologists and committed individuals. Some successes include the Bison, the Chatham Island Black Robin, the Mauritius Kestrel, the Pink Pigeon, and the Echo Parakeet to name a few.
Misconception #4 – Evolution will replace any missing species. Evolution will replace species, but it takes a very long time. It has been suggested that it could take 30 million years for nature to heal itself from the effects of humans on our biological heritage. A species can take hundreds of thousands of years to branch off from its parent group to form a new species.
Misconception #5 – All species have been discovered. Not even close! The total global estimate of species range from 100 million to as low as 5 million with new species discovered every year. About 1.3 species have been cataloged in a central database to date. Each year, researchers report more than 15,000 new species. Not all of these life forms are small. In 2011, a new cetacean (called the Burrunan dolphin) was discovered in Australian waters. If you think that new species are only discovered in remote areas, consider the new species of frog announced in 2012 living within New York City!
Misconception #6 – There is nothing I can do to protect the Earth’s biodiversity. Habitat loss is the number one cause of extinction. The very best way to protect our biological heritage is to adopt green spaces in your community. A wonderful example of this is the Macoun Marsh Biodiversity Project in Ottawa’s Beechwood Cemetery, Canada’s National Cemetery. Teachers and students from St-Laurent Academy Elementary and Junior High have become stewards of this space and have recorded almost 1400 species in this urban ecosystem. This initiative has grown into a Biodiversity Alliance of local schools with a three-part Mentorship Program for students.
Michael Leveille (St-Laurent Academy Elementary and Junior High Teacher)