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Loss of Biodiversity Part I: Introduction

One of things that I love to talk about while guiding, is the Biodiversity in Nature and more specifically in rainforests. It’s one of those things I marvel at, time and again. When you stop to think about it, it is indeed one of the greatest miracles of evolution.

Number of species on this planet

A staggering number of species share this planet with us homo sapiens, a number that biologists the world over, are still struggling to estimate. There could well be over 100 million different and unique species, from the gigantic whales to the microscopic insects, which have evolved over millions and millions of years. Of all the natural habitats on earth, rainforests are even more unique in that they possibly harbour about 50% of the species.

A role for every species

These millions of species of plants and trees, and creatures of all shapes and sizes, represent a myriad permutations and combinations of traits, colours, textures, defence mechanisms and complexities, that help them fill their unique niches in the ecosystem, and weave an intricate and interdependent web of life. What’s more, there is a purpose and raison d’etre for every species on this planet, a purpose that we often take for granted.

Biodiversity in tropical rainforests

Even a tiny area such as 4 hectare remnant of ancient rainforests that the Singapore Botanic Gardens, has 314 different plant species. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve’s 81 hectares has over 700 plant species and 500 animal species. In neighbouring Malaysia, there are over 10,000 plant species (compared with the 1500 species or so, in the United Kingdom).

To put biodiversity in the tropics in perspective, here are some comparisons:
• A single pond in Brazil can sustain a greater variety of fish than is found in all of Europe’s rivers.
• A 25-acre plot of rainforest in Borneo may contain more than 700 species of trees – a number equal to the total tree diversity of North America.
• A single rainforest reserve in Peru is home to more species of birds than are found in the entire United States.
• One single tree in Peru was found to harbor forty-three different species of ants – a total that approximates the entire number of ant species in the British Isles.
• The number of species of fish in the Amazon exceeds the number found in the entire Atlantic Ocean.
(Facts from www.rain-tree.com)

Just imagine how it would have been before 1819, when Stamford Raffles made Singapore an outpost of the British empire. 95% of the country was covered by primary rainforests, populated by tigers, wild boars and needless to say an astounding variety of flora and fauna, that we can only imagine now or perhaps see a few as preserved samples in a place like the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity at the National University of Singapore.  Now only a fraction of one percent of that rainforest is left in Singapore, due to clearance for plantations, settlements and subsequently, urbanisation of the island over the century.

This is probably the same fate that awaits the rainforests of the world (which cover only about 6% of the the total landmass of the planet), unless we act with a sense of urgency to preserve whatever is left.

Human population and its impact on Biodiversity

As a single species on this planet, our population has increased six-fold from one billion individuals in 1850 in very quick billion-person increments.  We went from five to six billion in only 11.5 years. The ever increasing demand on resources from such a huge global population, has had a tremendous impact on various ecosystems in Nature and the earth’s Biodiversity. Looking ahead into the century, what kind of an effect on Biodiversity will a future population of 16 billion people have?

The extent of domination that we as one species have achieved is astounding. We now use 50% of the world’s land, and over 50% of the world’s renewable fresh water.  In the last 1000 years we’ve lost species 100 to 1000 times faster than in the rest of human history, and it’s estimated we’ll lose 50% of the world’s remaining species in the next century.

Does Biodiversity really matter?

Does Biodiversity out there, really matter to us as we go about our daily lives, leading lives far removed from Nature, as we move around in cloistered urban jungles, blissfully unaware of the thousands of species silently vanishing from the face of this planet? Does it really matter to a current generation of children who are more preoccupied with different species of cars and gameboys and branded clothes and toys?

Yet, intuitively, we probably know that it’s not quite fair to leave an impoverished world for our descendants. But do we have the urge to take action to do something in our lives, however small, to leave a vibrant and varied planet for future generation, like the one we inherited. 

In order to act, we must first appreciate this richness of life and its importance, which is what Part II of the EcoWALK blog on Biodiversity is all about.


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Posted by on Oct 30 2008. Filed under Biodiversity. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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