The importance of biodiversity

Discover how biodiversity is responsible for ensuring the balance of ecosystems worldwide, and the human species depends on it for survival.

The importance of biodiversity
Just look at all that biodiversity mounted on a wall for your viewing pleasure. At the American Museum of Natural History, New York City. Photo: Dano via Flickr

Biodiversity is the variety of life forms on the planet (including terrestrial and marine ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part), beyond diversity within each species, between species, and between ecosystems. Biodiversity varies between different ecological regions and is much higher in the tropics than in temperate climates.

Biodiversity is responsible for ensuring the balance of ecosystems worldwide, and the human species depends on it for survival. Ironically, the main threat to biodiversity is human action, which manifests itself through deforestation, forest fires, and changes in climate and ecosystems.

The damage caused to biodiversity affects not only the species that inhabit a given place, but also the network of relationships between species and the environment in which they live. Due to deforestation and fires, many species have become extinct before they could be studied, or before any action was taken to try to preserve them.

Biodiversity is not static, it is dynamic; it is a system in constant evolution, both in each species and in each individual organism.

The importance of biodiversity can be summarized in two essential features. On the one hand, it is the fruit of the work of millions of years of nature, so its value is incalculable and irreplaceable. On the other hand, it is a guarantee for the correct functioning of the system formed by living beings, together with the environment in which they live and to which they contribute to their survival.

In this way, we can affirm that biodiversity is not only significant for human beings, but it is essential for the life of the planet, so we must try to preserve it. The biodiversity of species provides us with goods as necessary as food or oxygen, provides us with raw materials that favor economic development, produces energy that we use as fuel, is the origin of some medicines, and, last but not least, fills our retina with beautiful landscapes that we can enjoy.

Mexico, along with China, India, Colombia, and Peru, is among the five so-called "megadiverse" countries, which together hold between sixty and seventy percent of the planet's known biological diversity. In Mexico, 12 percent of the planet's terrestrial diversity is represented. Practically all known types of terrestrial vegetation are represented in the country and, in addition, some ecosystems, such as the wetlands of Cuatrocienegas, Coahuila, are only found in Mexico.

This diversity is the result of the complex topography and geology and the diverse climates and microclimates found throughout the territory. In addition, Mexico's geographical location makes it distinctive as the territory where two biogeographical regions, the Nearctic and the Neotropical, meet, which means that species with different ecological and geographical affinities have evolved in the country.

Mexico ranks first in the world in terms of the wealth of reptiles, second in terms of mammals, and fourth in terms of amphibians and plants. The biological diversity of our country is characterized by the fact that it is composed of a large number of endemic species, that is, species that are exclusive to the country.

Approximately fifty percent of the plant species found in our territory are endemic, which translates into approximately fifteen thousand species that, if they disappeared in Mexico, would disappear from the planet. Reptiles and amphibians have a proportion of endemic species of 57 and 65%, respectively, and mammals (land and marine) of 32%.

However, there is not much information about the genetic diversity we have; the number of species studied is very small. Likewise, given the large territorial extension of our country, it is not surprising that many of the species present considerable genetic variability, although some have been detected to have very low variability and require special care.

By Moisés Rivera Apodaca, Ecologist of the Regional Development Coordination of the Food and Development Research Center