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The Miracle Of Life

Nature is a powerful creative force. You’d be hard-pressed to identify any invention greater than the miraculous creation of all life on the planet!

Yet in promoting (and conserving) biodiversity, are our priorities the same as those that nature itself might identify if given the opportunity and voice?

The term “biodiversity” basically refers to the enormous variety of life on Earth.

It is the totality of life-forms, plants and animals and micro-organisms alike. As environmental educators sharing knowledge about biodiversity, we need to communicate the value(s) of biodiversity in its own right.

We also need to understand and communicate how different species of plants and animals fit together and collaborate to make the natural world – a network of living environments that populate the globe.

When approaching biodiversity from an environmental education perspective, we look at three levels of biological structure. As Professor E.O. Wilson outlines: “On the top level are the ecosystems, the shallow marine environments, the savannahs, the forest patches, the ponds. On the second level are the species of plants and animals and micro-organisms that make up each ecosystem. And the third level are the genes, the variety of genes that prescribe the species, that fill up and make up the ecosystems” (cited in Planet Earth: The Future (what the experts say), 2006, p. 27).

Understanding biodiversity – the significance of big and small life-forms alike – is important because human nature tends to default to larger species in the determination of conservation priorities. From elephants and rhinoceros to redwood forests and towering king ferns – the bigger the better, it seems, in our human prioritization of what is environmentally important.

If we go deeper, however, we discover that even the smallest of life-forms play a critical role in maintaining the equilibrium of ecosystem health. From micro-organisms that support aquatic health to the moss and lichen of forests – each life-form plays a role that has been determined through evolution over millions of years.

Even the humble frog has much to teach us. David Attenborough, for example, highlights the importance of frogs in Panama “Their disappearance can have great consequences for the various creatures that feed upon them or the creatures that they themselves feed on. If they go, the insects proliferate. What happens then? Do some of those insects carry diseases? Every time you change the balance or, worse, eliminate a species, you risk ecological catastrophe.” (cited in Planet Earth, p. 30)

Life has evolved on Earth by a massive proliferation of plants and creatures, diverse in size, shape, colour, form, purpose. This represents an evolutionary solution to life on Earth. Nature has invented the organisms possible and necessary to exploit the wide variety of climates and geological niches of our planet. As Richard Mabey asserts, they also exist to ensure the resilience (the ability to buffer against change) within ecosystems:

“What the planet has produced as a kind of flush of cards is astonishing, and at any point where we diminish that diversity, or allow it to diminish, we are weakening the whole resilience of the system of life on Earth as well as stopping in its tracks these beautiful solutions to the challenge of living. How do you live hundreds of feet under water in an undersea volcano, in toxic gases and flowing sulphur at great temperatures? Life has invented a way of doing that, just as it invented birds that can fly above the level that human beings can survive without oxygen…these are wonderful things” (cited in Planet Earth, p.29).

Irrespective of the aesthetic values we see in nature, we must strive to preserve biodiversity, “not just because of its astonishing beauty, but because it is what underpins life on Earth” (Ibid).

So next time you happen upon a pod of fungi or a batwing moth, see it for what it is – an essential element in the wonderful diversity that comprises (and sustains) the magnificent planet we call home.

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