Biodiversity refers to the number of species in a particular area. The more species that are present, the more biodiversity an area has. In fact, biodiversity plays a large role in economics and national security, because the diversity of species in an area is often the key to survival, in numerous ways. The more biodiverse an area is, the healthier that area typically is.

2010 was the International Year of Biodiversity!

Chanterelle MushroomCredit: Public Domain

A Chanterelle Mushroom

Face it, we don't all like all the same things--whether foods to eat, or fabrics to wear, or the kinds of animals and birds we prefer. Yet in the USA, the enormous social pressure towards conformity that people face has contributed to a culture of monoculture--the same plants, the same pets, the same foods--that will ultimately contribute to the peril of the country. This was largely the result of the American Garden Club, which specified that an appropriate lawn was "a plot with a single type of grass with no intruding weeds, kept mown at a height of an inch and a half, uniformly green, and neatly edged."

The Dangers of Monocultures

The opposite of biodiversity is monoculture--the same few species prevail in one area. Monocultures are dangerous economically, because if a plant, disease, pest or predator enters an area, crops or livestock may be wiped out before anyone can put a stop to it. This led to the Irish potato famine, where the two kinds of potatoes grown were susceptible to a particular strain of mold. This famine caused the deaths of a million people, and resulted in the migration of another million people. Monoculture was also responsible for the collapse of the European wine industry. When a virus attacked rice in Indonesia, of over 6,000 varieties tested, only one was found to be resistant to the virus. Animal stocks are routinely felled by disease and a large farm can be wiped out in days--the farmer or rancher left devastated economically--and then the whole area suffers not only from the lack of food, but from all the commerce that that food produces. Even the problems with fire ants can be traced to monocultures. And yet eighty per cent of the human food supply comes from only twenty varieties of plants, although people use up to forty thousand kinds of plants in their diet. And it's not just food that is affected--a forest which has only a single species of tree, on which people rely for timber, is just as vulnerable as a million acres of the same kind of corn.

Arnica montanaCredit: Public Domain
Arnica montana growing wild
Parterre Herb GardenCredit: Public Domain

In addition, national security may be at stake. For a nation that relies largely on only four or five crops, losing one crop may mean a huge reduction of the food supply. Starving people are not good citizens, and, just as happened in Ireland, starvation quickly leads to social breakdown, which puts a strain on local police forces, and leads to resources being spent locally that are needed nationally. If two crops were to be largely taken out, then there would be a disaster of epic proportions! This does not have to be a man-made disaster; a mold blown on the wind from Africa could easily wipe out one of the five major food crops, or a volcano, large dust storm or major earthquake could change the ecosystem enough so that a major crop resource would find it impossible to survive.

Biodiversity benefits us in numerous ways

The Benefits of Biodiversity

With biodiversity, small amounts of many kinds of species thrive in a single area.

  • The introduction of large numbers of species leads to a more diverse ecosystem, which means that the ecosystem is less likely to be upended should one or two species not survive.
  • Wild life and wild birds are attracted to the area, preying on damaging insect populations.
  • Improved air quality, as plants filter out different kinds toxins according to species.
  • Plants in an area with a combination of shallow and deep roots prevent erosion.
  • Different plant species, as they decay, add different nutrients to the soil, making it more fertile and supporting more kinds of beneficial bacteria and animal life.
  • Cross-breeding of different varieties in the same species leads to hybrid vigour.
  • Diverse varieties have led researchers to many important discoveries, not only in improving crops, but in health, nutrition, and even DNA research.
  • The health of the soil, and the nutritional value of plants grown in it, improves, and fewer chemicals are needed to control pests and improve growth.
  • Many medicines are derived from plants, and if those plants are widely grown, those medicines become more available, and cheaper.
  • And commerce improves, because instead of the same five kinds of apples in every store nationally, now specialty varieties are stocked, and customers try new ways of eating, bringing variety to their nutrition.
  • Because their nutrition is improved, now people and animals in that area are healthier.
  • The reduced use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers means that people and animals (including the animals they eat) are exposed to fewer toxins.
  • Areas with a higher biodiversity provide a higher spiritual and aesthetic value, leading to lower stress in people and animals.
  • Plants release chemicals into the air which are then absorbed by people and animals when they breathe. Chemicals from certain kinds of plants are proven to promote health in both people and animals.

So as we see, there is a cascading positive effect caused by biodiversity that penetrates into many areas of society.

Thymus vulgaris, Common, Ordinary, or Garden ThymeCredit: Public Domain
A thyme lawn can help your neighbourhood's biodiversity, is good to eat,
and, once established, never needs watering or mowing


What can One Person Do?

How can you help? You can increase your neighbourhood's biodiversity!

  • Have a different kind of potted plant on your patio than your neighbours
  • Grow a herb lawn instead of grass
  • Use herbs as foundation plantings
  • Set out a different kind of bird seed to attract another species of birds into your neighbourhood
  • Support grocers who offer variety by trying new kinds or varieties of fruits and vegetables
  • Buy organic where possible--organic cultivation promotes biodiversity
  • Reduce litter and pollution
  • Preserve as much natural land as possible
  • Do not plant or import invasive exotics

These steps are easy and can be done on a small scale at first, and enlarged little by little. And you will see personal benefits, too, because herb lawns and foundation plantings save water, fertilizing, pesticides, trimming, mowing, and can be eaten or made into delicious teas.

Raise your glasses of herbal iced tea, and let's drink a toast to biodiversity!
Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded
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Why are native plants so important? There is a coexistence that has developed over millennia between plants, insects, and animals that is delicate, and even small changes in the environment can strengthen or topple this coexistence. Once you read this book, you'll be inspired to take action!