With world Earth Summit close, WWU professor calls for more efforts to stop biodiversity loss

A Western Washington University biology professor is part of a group of prominent ecologists calling for renewed international efforts to curb the loss of biological diversity, which they say is compromising nature’s ability to provide goods and services essential for human well-being.

Human actions are dismantling the Earth’s natural ecosystems, resulting in species extinctions at rates several orders of magnitude faster than observed in the fossil record. Even so, there’s still time – if the nations of the world make biodiversity preservation an international priority – to conserve much of the remaining variety of life and to restore much of what’s been lost, according to Cardinale and his colleagues.

Over the past two decades, strong scientific evidence has emerged showing that loss of the world’s biological diversity reduces the productivity and sustainability of natural ecosystems and decreases their ability to provide society with goods and services like food, wood, fodder, fertile soils and protection from pests and disease, according to the international team of ecologists led by University of Michigan’s Bradley Cardinale.

Cardinale, Hooper and their fellow researchers present their findings in the June 7 edition of the journal Nature, in an article titled “Biodiversity Loss and its Impact on Humanity.”

The paper is a scientific consensus statement that summarizes evidence that has emerged from more than 1,000 ecological studies over the past two decades.

“The balance of scientific evidence brought together by this study clearly shows that sound management of biological diversity is one of the key issues in sustainable management of the planet,” said Hooper, in a press release.

“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,” said Cardinale, the lead author of the Nature paper.

The call to action comes as international leaders prepare to gather in Rio de Janeiro on June 20-22 for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as the Rio+20 Conference.

The upcoming conference marks the 20th anniversary of 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, which resulted in 193 nations supporting the Convention on Biological Diversity’s goals of biodiversity conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources.

Despite far-reaching support for the Convention on Biological Diversity, biodiversity loss has continued over the past two decades, often at increasing rates. In response, a new set of diversity-preservation goals for 2020, known as the Aichi targets, was recently formulated. Also, a new international body called the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services was formed in April 2012 to guide a global response toward sustainable management of the world’s biodiversity and ecosystems.

Significant gaps in the science behind biological diversity remain and must be addressed if the Aichi targets are to be met, Cardinale and his colleagues write in Nature.

“This paper is important because it shows what we know, and it shows what we don’t know,” said Hooper. “Several of the key questions we outline help point the way for the next generation of research on how changing biodiversity affects human well-being.”

In addition to Cardinale, Naeem and Hooper, co-authors of the Nature paper are: J. Emmett Duffy of The College of William and Mary; Andrew Gonzalez of McGill University; Charles Perrings and Ann P. Kinzig of Arizona State University; Patrick Venail and Anita Narwani of U-M’s School of Natural Resources and Environment; Georgina M. Mace of Imperial College London; David Tilman of the University of Minnesota; David A. Wardle of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences; Gretchen C. Daily of Stanford University; Michel Loreau of Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Moulis, France; James B. Grace of the U.S. Geological Survey; Anne Larigauderie of the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Rue Cuvier, France; and Diane Srivastava of the University of British Columbia.

The work was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and funding from the University of California at Santa Barbara and the state of California.

“Water purity, food production and air quality are easy to take for granted, but all are largely provided by communities of organisms,” said George Gilchrist, program director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research. “This paper demonstrates that it is not simply the quantity of living things, but their species, genetic and trait biodiversity, that influences the delivery of many essential ‘ecosystem services.’”

For more information on his research or the Nature article, contact Dave Hooper at david.hooper@wwu.edu.

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