Biodiversity sustains natural systems human beings rely on: Australian entomologist

Biodiversity sustains the natural systems that human beings live in, said an Australian entomologists before the United Nations biodiversity conference.

“It sustains the natural systems that…our cultures and economies rely on,” said David Yeates, Director of the Australian National Insect Collection (ANIC) at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, in an interview with Xinhua to talk about the importance of biodiversity.

The first part of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) is set to kick off in Kunming of southwest China on Oct. 11. The meeting will review the “post-2020 global biodiversity framework” to draw a blueprint for biodiversity conservation in the future.

SIGNIFICANCE OF BIODIVERSITY

Dr. Yeates said that at the conference, he wished to see a greater emphasis on the protection of parts of both the land and the oceans on the globe for the preservation of biodiversity.

“That’s one big step in the right direction for managing the planet’s biodiversity,” he said.

He noted that significance of biodiversity had sometimes been neglected. “Because it’s always been there,” he said. “We often take for granted and don’t realize the amazing job that all of the species and biodiversity around us are doing to produce more oxygen for atmosphere, to reduce pollution in our waterways, to pollinate plants, to maintain and increase the health of our soils…all sort of things that biodiversity does for us.”

Over the past centuries, lots of species have become extinct, including the West African Black Rhino and the Tasmanian Tiger, and Yeates believed that they were just a tip of an iceberg.

“For every extinction we know about, there are probably many many more that we don’t know about, because we weren’t aware of the species in the first place,” he said.

He agreed that extinction of species was an indicator of the impact human beings are having on biodiversity.

According to him the COVID-19 pandemic particularly reminded people of biodiversity protection.

“The COVID-19 virus was probably present in some native biodiversity, but jumped over to humans,” he said. “So that’s an impact that we need to be aware of as human populations increase and we interact more and more with different species in new ways.”

He hoped that the pandemic could make people realize that “we are all connected in the globe” and “it’s a big integrated system” where one little incident could have a huge impact on all human populations quickly.

CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

Talking about biodiversity preservation, Yeates saw both challenges and opportunities.

Challenges include climate change and feeding earth’s population while maintaining as much of the earth’s biodiversity as possible. “Climate change means the optimal conditions for species are moving, and species are challenged to move to those new places because the environments have been so fragmented by agriculture and other human activities,” he said.

Therefore, he applauded China’s efforts in these aspects.

“Both for lifting millions of people out of poverty over the last 40 or 50 years, and the amazing conservation efforts,” he said. “It’s an incredible sort of balancing act that I think China can be rightly proud of.”

Two stories about China’s efforts on wildlife conservation were reported by global media with interest recently — the number of once-endangered Tibetan antelopes kept rising, from less than 70,000 during the 1980s and 1990s to around 300,000 at present, and between June and August, a herd of wild Asian elephants left their habitat and roamed for 110 days in southwest China before going back “home” unscathed with the help of local government and people.

“When China has preserved those large animals like antelopes and elephants, that means they’ve preserved very large areas of land for those animals to live in,” Yeates said.

Also he talked about China’s efforts to manage the carbon emissions, which he saw as “really tremendous global effort” that many countries could benefit from.

Yeates said that people must find ways of aligning both economic prosperity and the preservation of biodiversity. “Biodiversity has much to teach us and can help us solve problems. For example, many of the world’s pharmaceutical drugs were first discovered in plants and animals.”

In addition, many companies around the world are working on using insects to decompose waste rather than putting it in landfill.

In that way, he said, those insects convert the waste into protein and carbohydrate, which can then be used for animal feed.

“There’s great value in educating people about the value of biodiversity and discovering new ways to use it.”

To preserve biodiversity, he suggested to make more of the land and sea a preserve for maintaining biodiversity, reduce the impact of invasive species, manage man-made air pollutants, and reduce the use of especially single-use plastics and the inputs of chemicals and pesticides into the environment.

“All of those things will not only help biodiversity, but will also help humans as well in the long run,” he concluded.