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Biodiversity loss leaving us high and dry

MCGILL (CAN) / U. MICHIGAN (US) — The loss of biodiversity is increasingly threatening Earth’s ability to provide humans with goods and services like food, water, fertile soils, and protection from pests and disease, a 20-year review shows.

Presented in the June 7 edition of Nature, the scientific consensus statement summarizes evidence that has emerged from more than 1,000 ecological studies conducted since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“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 balance of evidence reviewed in the study shows 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.

Plant diversity also contributes to greater resistance to invasion by exotic plants, inhibits plant pathogens such as fungal and viral infections, 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 call to action comes as international leaders prepare to gather in Rio de Janeiro on June 20 for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as the Rio+20 Conference.

The conference marks the 20th anniversary of the 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.

This research was supported by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the National Science Foundation in the United States.

More news from McGill University: www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/

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