International Day for Biological Diversity – May 22, 2010

The United Nations has designated May 22 as The International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) to be celebrated every year from 2002.  This year the theme is Biodiversity, Development and Poverty Alleviation and in 2008 the theme was Biodiversity and Agriculture. More details are available from http://www.cbd.int/idb/ and you can download the booklet with discussions on how biodiversity is linked to poverty alleviation through ecosystem services.

The 2010 theme, dedicated to recognizing the role of biodiversity for human well being, is part of the 2010 International Year for Biodiversity (IYB2010) celebration.  In his message to commemorate IDB 2010, the UN Secretary General, expressed concern that some ecosystems may be moving closer to “tipping points” and called on all to recognize biodiversity is life, our life.  In order to tackle the root causes of biodiversity declines urgent actions are needed to adjust policies and mind sets to reflect the true value of species biodiversity and habitats.

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GBO-3: Biodiversity losses increasing and ecosystem services may reach tipping points

by
K.L. Heong
Insect Ecologist
International Rice Research Institute
Los Baños, Philippines

The Convention of Biodiversity (CBD) secretariat released the Third Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 (GBO-3) recently warning that biodiversity losses are in an increasing trend. Unless radical and creative actions are taken, some essential ecosystem services will approach “tipping points”. The GBO-3 is a landmark study in the U.N.’s International Year of Biodiversity and the full report may be downloaded from http://gbo3.cbd.int/

When the essential services reach “tipping points”, ecosystems would shift to less productive states from which it would be difficult or impossible to recover.  It is like falling off a cliff. The GBO-3 is a peer reviewed and based on 110 National Reports and 500 scientific papers. Earlier assessments have underestimated the potential severity of biodiversity loss, because the impacts of passing tipping points have not previously been taken into account.

One tipping point could be triggered by multiple collapses of coral reef ecosystems due to a combination of ocean acidification, warmer water leading to bleaching, over-fishing and nutrient pollution. This ecosystem shift threatens the livelihoods of coral reef species and fishermen.

The report identifies the five main pressures driving biodiversity loss as: habitat change, over-exploitation, pollution, invasive alien species and climate change – all either constant or increasing in intensity.  Linked to biodiversity loss is climate change. Conserving biodiversity and the ecosystem services can help to build more resilient ecosystems to withstand climate change effects.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

by
K.L. Heong
Insect Ecologist
International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines

At the turn of the new millennium, the UN undertook the largest assessment ever of the health of ecosystems.  The millennium assessment (MA) was conducted by 1360 world experts from 95 countries with extensive peer reviews to establish consensus of the world’s scientists. Launched by the UN secretary general, Kofi Anan, in 2001 the MA was completed in March 2005. The MA was conducted because scientific information regarding biodiversity and ecosystems has not been factored into policy making.

The MA used the ecosystem services (ES) framework in conducting and integrating such a broader and extensive analysis.  ES is broadly defined as “benefits that people obtain from ecosystem services” (MA 2005) and they include service related to provisioning, regulating, and supporting, and cultural functions (figure below). First proposed by Daily (1997), the ES concept has gained considerable following and “ecological engineering” (Gurr 2009 ) has emerged as a new direction for agricultural pest management.

Provisioning services include production of food, fresh water, fuel, wood, and fiber. The supporting services basically provide maintenance to the resource base and include nutrient cycling, soil formation, and primary production. Cultural services provide humans with aesthetic and spiritual values, education, and recreation and regulating services include water purification, climate, and flood regulation. Regulating services relating directly to sustainable agriculture are pollination, pest invasion resistance, natural biological control, and pest and disease regulation. Biodiversity is the foundation of ES contributing to food provisioning through crop and genetic biodiversity. In addition, biodiversity through ecological functions contributes to regulating services, such as pollination, invasion resistance, natural biological control, and pest and disease regulation. When these regulating services are diminished, ecosystems become unstable and vulnerable to pest invasions, as in the case of planthopper outbreaks in rice (Heong, 2009). These are symptoms of ecosystem breakdown.

When pest species invade rice production systems with low ecosystem services, they multiply exponentially to outbreak proportions.

The MA found that in the last 50 years humans have radically changed ecosystems. These changes have brought about gains, like increase in food production, but at a growing cost as more than 60% of the ecosystem services are degraded, like pest regulation, pollination, genetic resources and fresh water. Some of the degradations are harming poor people and degradations could worsen if not reversed with appropriate policies and technologies. Most of the direct drivers of ecosystem degradation are remaining constant or are growing, like increase use of pesticides. Many of the degradations can be slowed down of reversed with appropriate modifications to policies, like pesticide regulation and pest control structures. As long as ecosystem services are treated as free and limitless, there is no incentive to stop the current trends in degradation. An important option to consider is change in economic incentives, like payment for ecosystem services (PES) and policies to prevent price distortions, like pesticide subsidies and free distributions. PES can be a viable option to consider.  The was featured in the “CHOICES” a publication of the American Agricultural Economics Association and in the FAO’s 2007 SOFA (State of Food and Agriculture).

The MA has published various reports including the MA conceptual framework, technical assessment reports and synthesis reports and they are all available for download from http://www.millenniumassessment.org/en/index.aspx . In addition I have provided some links where biodiversity and ecosystems are further discussed.

http://www.ecology.org/biod/value/EcosystemServices.html

http://www.eoearth.org/article/Biodiversity_and_ecosystem_services

http://www.ecosystemservices.org.uk/

http://www.greenfacts.org/en/ecosystems/index.htm

Also under the Publications tab in the blog are publications that you can download.

References

Daily G. 1997. Nature’s services: Societal dependence on natural ecosystems. Washington, D.C. (USA): Island Press.

Gurr G. 2009. Prospects for ecological engineering for planthoppers and other arthropod pests in rice. Pp 371-388 IN Heong KL, Hardy B, editors. Planthoppers: new threats to the sustainability of intensive rice production systems in Asia. Los Baños (Philippines): International Rice Research Institute.

Heong K.L. 2009. Are planthopper problems caused by a breakdown in ecosystem services? Pp 221-232 In Heong KL, Hardy B, editors. Planthoppers: new threats to the sustainability of intensive rice production systems in Asia. Los Baños (Philippines): International Rice Research Institute.

MA (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment) 2005. Ecosystems and human well-being: biodiversity synthesis. Washington, D.C. (USA): World Resources Institute.