Why do we care about biodiversity anyway?
Biodiversity, especially the loss thereof, is a term that is often thrown around when talking about the impact of climate change. But why do we really care about how many different species there are worldwide? We have enough problems within humanity to worry about. Furthermore, species have and always will have different periods of thriving and extinction. What’s the big deal that some are endangered?
Most people are familiar with the idea that we all live in an ecosystem encompassing the physical environment and the interactions between all living organisms, including humans. We, as humans, rely on our ecosystems for a healthy, liveable environment. Biodiversity Ecosystem Function (BEF) is the theory that biodiversity is necessary for an ecosystem to function. Biodiversity ensures ecosystem health by maximizing and stabilizing ecosystem function. Over time this creates resilience and adaptability toward ecological disturbances, such as those caused by climate change.
Biodiversity can be measured in many different ways. The most common way is species richness: how many different species there are in the ecosystem. Other ways to measure biodiversity include evenness (how even is the distribution of species across the ecosystem) and functional diversity (how diverse are the roles of the different species e.g. predators vs prey, omnivores vs herbivores, etc).
All these different types of biodiversity maximize ecosystem function by allowing the ecosystem as a whole to completely utilize the available energy niches. An example of this is the sea worms that eat the sunken carcasses of whales on the seafloor. On the other hand, biodiversity can prevent complete ecosystem collapse by having functional redundancy. This creates an insurance effect to ensure that even if some external force, such as a disease, were to wipe out an entire species, other species in the ecosystem could fill their role, and the ecosystem would remain functioning.
So beyond the videos of starving polar bears being heartbreaking to watch, an increase in threatened and extinct species is bad news because it means the health of our ecosystems is being threatened. As such, worrying about the health of other species of animals is not so different from worrying about yourself.
Written by Alyssa Horng ‘26