Tuesday, September 4, 2012

$aving $pecies to $ave Money

The value of local and global biodiversity                                                

Native animals and plants perform a vast array of tasks that improve our quality of life.  While at times we may be annoyed by some of the peskier critters, it is important to remember that the benefits provided by local ecosystems (known as "ecosystem services") far outweigh the costs of having those ecosystems around.

The World Services Institute values our planet's ecosystem services at $33 Trillion (USD) annually...That's nearly twice the value of the global gross national product!  There is no way we could afford to perform all these necessary services on our own!

Air & Water

Native plants help filter and retain water.  Keeping these plants in your garden requires less frequent watering and fewer fertilizers and pesticides.  Because everything is connected in an ecosystem, native animals help promote the growth of these plants through pollination while the plants, in turn, provide crucial habitat for their animal neighbors.

Production of Food & Other Goods

Nature has provided us with some of our favorite treats; coffee, chocolate, and sugar to name a few.  But even species that we don't traditionally consider edible contribute to the production of our food and goods.  A balance of local species ensures healthy nutrient levels, fertile soils, adequate irrigation, and normal growth and development for plants and animals that we use.  The more ecologically balanced the system, the greater the productivity of that system, and the greater the amount of  resources available for sustainable human extraction.  

The balance described above is also important for sustainable growth of ecosystems that provide goods other than food.  The list of plants and animals found in everyday products used by humans is truly endless.  Rubber, medicine (including antibiotics and cold relief medicine), adhesives, pigments, antifreeze, cosmetics have all come from biological organisms around the world.  
  • Natural systems have provided us with 64% of all new chemical developments since the 1980s 
  • 33% of available anti-cancer treatments are totally synthetic; the rest have come from natural sources in some way or another. (Beattie et al.)


Pollination is a vital process.  Without it, many plants wouldn't be able to reproduce.  Birds, bees, butterflies and (and other insects) aid in plant reproduction by carrying pollen to the plants that they frequent.
  • We rely on pollinators to grow over 1,000 different plants from which we derive everyday products like fruits, nuts, and spices.

Pest Control

Properly balanced ecosystems maintain themselves.  Dragonflies, spiders, toads, birds, and bats are all examples of local, built-in pest exterminators that help keep trouble insect numbers low.  Pest exterminator species also serve as the first line of defense many diseases by reducing pathogenic vectors to a manageable level.

Aesthetic Beauty & Rejuvenation 

Few could disagree that natural areas are relaxing places to recharge and rejuvenate.  Keeping local species around means that we have better places to bike, hike, walk, hunt, jog, camp, garden, barbecue, picnic, swim, boat, fish, nap, and live.

  • Eco-tourism accounts for $77 billion in the global market 
  • Tourism is the number one export in 60 countries...many of which depend on natural areas and ecotourism to bring in visitors (Center for Responsible Travel)

More & MORE...

Waste recycling, soil formation, nutrient cycling, cultural contributions, raw materials...the list of things our ecosystems provide goes on and on!  From the typical to the almost science-fiction, species have been found that can do incredible things.  Soon, another ecosystem service may be added to the list: the breakdown of plastic in the environment by a species of plastic-eating fungus just recently discovered!

The plethora of diversity on Earth is responsible for advancements in medicine, pharmaceuticals, industry, and quality of life and it is our responsibility to protect that diversity.  We are currently losing species faster than we are discovering them.  How many beneficial services and goods are we losing to extinction and habitat destruction? We may never know, because we aren't keeping these species around long enough to understand their full potential.

Additional Reading:

-Study assigning a dollar amount to ecosystem services: The value of the world's ecosystem services and natural capital by R. Costanza et al.

-New Products and Industries from Biodiversity (somewhat technical, table/graph/numbers heavy)

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