This month, the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, an United Nations conference where various issues where addressed like the systematic scrutiny of patterns of production, alternative sources of energy to replace the use of fossil fuels, new reliance on public transportation systems in order to reduce vehicle emissions or the growing scarcity of water. More importantly however, the summit marked the moment when 193 nations showed their support for the Convention on Biological Diversity and its goals of biodiversity conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources.
In the wake of the upcoming Rio de Janeiro meeting on June 20 for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as the Rio+20 Conference, scientists have released a study which summarizes and correlates the findings of over 1,000 ecological studies conducted since the 1992 summit. Their reaction isn’t the most optimistic.
“We believe that ongoing loss of biological diversity is diminishing the ability of ecosystems to sustain human societies,” says Andrew Gonzalez, associate professor of biology and the Quebec Centre for Biodiversity Science at McGill University and author on the paper.
“We’ve reached a point where efforts to preserve species and biological diversity might no longer be an act of altruism,” says co-author Diane Srivastava, professor of zoology and the Biodiversity Research Centre at University of British Columbia.
“This research review dramatically underscores the importance of strengthening—not weakening or curtailing—environmental assessment processes in order to stem the tide of the loss of species and diversity that so many humans benefit from and depend on.”
The researchers stress that genetic diversity increases the yield of commercial crops, enhances the production of wood in tree plantations, improves the production of fodder in grasslands, and increases the stability of yields in fisheries. Also, plant diversity keeps pests like fungal or viral infections away, and offers greater resistance to invasive exotic plants. Of course, plant diversity enhances above-ground carbon sequestration through enhanced biomass, and increases nutrient re-mineralization and soil organic matter.
“As much as the consensus statements by doctors led to public warnings that tobacco use is harmful to your health, this is a consensus statement by experts who agree that loss of Earth’s wild species will be harmful to the world’s ecosystems and may harm society by reducing ecosystem services that are essential to human health and prosperity,” says Bradley Cardinale, associate professor at the University of Michigan and leader of the research effort.
“We need to take biodiversity loss far more seriously—from individuals to international governing bodies—and take greater action to prevent further losses of species.”
The findings were presented in the journal Nature.