7Loss of Biodiversity

  1. Explain the environmental issue ‘loss of biodiversity’.

Biodiversity, or biological diversity, can be considered as the “variety of life” on the planet earth (). The World Wildlife Fund (WWF 2010) defines biodiversity as the variability among living organisms from all sources and the ecological complexes of which they are part (WWF 2010). This includes diversity within and between genes, species and the ecosystems they are found in. The loss of biodiversity can therefore be explained as a reduction in the number, and consequently variety, of species (of living organisms) globally and the destruction of the ecosystems that they consist of through human activities such as settlement, urbanization, mining, pollution from industries, construction, lumbering and energy consumption (IUCN 2010). The loss of biodiversity mainly occurs through the extinction of a certain number and type of plant and animal species (due to these human activities) whose very existence will not be witnessed by future generations. It is estimated that only 1.5 million species have been discovered against the possibility of up to 90 million species existing (BBC 2010). The scale of the loss of biodiversity is estimated at the extinction or dying off of up to 130 different species of living organisms daily due to factors such as loss of habitats, exploitation or climate change (IUCN 2010). The WWF’s Living planet Index, a measure of biodiversity (or the loss of it), has also declined by 30 percent between 1970 and 2007 (WWF 2010).

  1. In what ways is Australia (or your home country) being impacted by species extinction?

Species extinction has various negative effects for Australia. Principally, species extinction negatively affects tourism (eco-tourism) which is a significant contributor to Australia’s economy through reduced tourist revenues. Tourist attractions such as coral reefs on Australia’s beautiful beaches are fast disappearing and with them the revenues of tourism. The destruction of species habitats such as rainforests, which is the main contributor to the loss of biodiversity in Australia, has led to shortages in natural resources such as timber and drugs and occasioned prolonged drought and water shortages along the Murray-Darling Basin (Commonwealth of Australia 1996). The Australian State of the Environment report has also identified a rise in infectious diseases and a loss of current and potential sources of medicine as possible adverse effects of the loss of biodiversity. Extinction of plant species such as the Wollemi Pine (which grows near Sydney) limits availability to medicines to fight diseases such as breast and ovarian cancer. As other species also die out, the possibility of pathogens switching hosts to human beings poses the risk of an increase in infectious diseases (Cassis 1998).

  1. List the main factors contributing to species extinction

  • Climate change

  • Destruction of habitats through land clearing (deforestation), logging or mining

  • Introduction of invasive species

  • Pollution from industries or farms (pesticides) and oil spills

  • Overexploitation of resources such as fisheries and whaling (BBC 2010; IUCN 2010)

  1. In what ways can loss of biodiversity have negative impacts for humans? How will this impact on you?

Loss of biodiversity can lead to shortages of essential natural resources such as timber, coal, water and even food which may spark resource based conflicts as has been the case in areas such as Darfur. Species extinction, for example the loss of rainforests, not only removes protective barriers from natural disasters such as floods and cyclones but also contributes to drought and famine (IUCN 2010). The loss of biodiversity also contributes to climate change through global warming which may raise global temperatures and make many areas of the planet inhabitable. Another way in which species extinction may be negative for humans is through the loss of potential sources of medicine therefore lowering life expectancy. There is also the possibility of outbreaks of infectious diseases as pathogens switch hosts from extinct species to human beings (Cassis 1998). Personally, this serves to lower my own life expectancy and implies increased costs of living as I attempt to escape the negative effects of loss of biodiversity.

  1. What actions have been taken in the past to slow, stop and reverse biodiversity loss?

Some of the actions taken in the past to slow, stop or reverse biodiversity loss include a global commitment to reduction of greenhouse gases by some of the world’s leading economies under the Kyoto Protocol adopted in 1997. Countries such as Australia have committed themselves to lowering the levels of pollution through carbon emissions as a means of preventing global warming which essentially approaches the biodiversity problem from a climate change perspective. Most significantly, the United Nations, the World Wildlife Foundation and other conservancy groups such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature have declared certain species of plants and animals as extinct and have coordinated legislation to protect these species (IUCN 2010). To this end, it has become illegal to hunt fish or even trade in organisms that are considered endangered. Environmental groups have also lobbied governments into protection of ecosystems by setting up marine and terrestrial animal and plant conservation parks which protect endangered species from extinction. Other localized actions to slow biodiversity loss include ecological measures such as the control of invasive plant species by burning or slashing them and control of breeding grounds for invasive animal species and re-planting of endangered plant species (Commonwealth of Australia 1996).

  1. In what ways does your industry contribute to loss of biodiversity?

The agricultural industry plays a major role in the loss of biodiversity. Initially, agriculture requires land clearing for cultivation. While agriculture eventually creates its own ecosystem of species, it destroys the natural habitat of a greater number of species. The use of fertilizers and insecticides in crop farming also contributes to the extinction of species of insects such as weevils and beetles and the destruction of entire ecosystems of microorganisms in the soil (BBC 2010). The runoff also pollutes rivers and other wetlands killing the species that live in them. The harvesting processing of the products of agriculture using heavy machinery also pollutes the air and contributes to climate change and loss of biodiversity.

  1. In what ways can business and industry assist in the preservation of plant and animal species?

One of the ways businesses and industries can contribute to the preservation of plant and animal species is by making a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions which are largely responsible for pollution, climate change and subsequent species extinction. For instance, through carbon trading, industries can regulate their carbon emissions and reduce their carbon footprint and levels of pollution (WWF 2010). Businesses can also contribute to plant and animal preservation through environmental corporate social responsibility initiatives such as funding tree planting exercises, promoting recycling by their consumers and sponsoring the conservation efforts of both governmental and non-governmental agencies. Businesses should also integrate clean-up activities to ameliorate the effects of disasters such as oil spills (read Exxon-Valdez and New Horizon) (IUCN 2010).

  1. What can we do as individuals to reduce our contribution to species extinction?

As individuals, we can make conscious consumer choices to reduce our contribution to species extinction. For instance, we can avoid purchasing or trading in commodities made from endangered species such as ivory and sea turtles which would discourage poachers from hunting endangered animals. We can also chose not to buy commodities from businesses blacklisted by environmental groups as having a large carbon footprint or known to engage in environmentally dishonest practices such as overfishing and logging. At the household level, we can preserve the genetic material of endangered plants by planting them on out yards which increases the survival chances of that particular species. We can also recycle and use renewable sources of energy such as solar and gas-electric hybrid vehicles to discourage exploitation of forests and seas for energy (IUCN 2010).


British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) (2010). The State of the Earth (video file). Retrieved on 11 August, 2011 from < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEiT-RR8eXs>

Cassis, G. (1998). Biodiversity loss: a human health issue. The Medical Journal of Australia. Retrieved on 10 August, 2011 from <

Commonwealth of Australia (1996). Australia, State of the Environment.An independent report presented to the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment by the State of the Environment Advisory Council. Melbourne: CSIRO Publishing.

International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) (2010). International Year of Biodiversity Video (video file). Retrieved on 11 August, 2011 from <

World Wildlife Fund (2010). Living Planet Report 2010. Retrieved on 11 August, 2011 from <