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International Day for Biological Diversity — we need to recognise our solutions are in nature

This year's celebration is all the more timely given the Covid-19 pandemic and the major environmental changes needed to heal.

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In December 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted 22 May as the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB), to “commemorate the adoption of the text of the Convention on 22 May 1992 by the Nairobi Final Act of the Conference for the Adoption of the Agreed Text of the Convention on Biological Diversity.”

Biological diversity, or biodiversity, is the variety of life and all its interactions. The word, a contraction of ‘biological diversity’, was first used in 1985, by Walter Rosen of the National Research Council, and it is used to collectively describe the entire gamut of flora, fauna and microorganisms that exist on the planet, their relationships with each other, their genetic variations and their place in the wider ecosystem.

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All life forms impact each other

Life forms are highly interconnected. If one life form suffers extinction, it can have a devastating or even unpredictable impact on others. For example, if honeybees go extinct, flowers will not be able to pollinate so effectively, and this can disrupt the lives of all other life forms. Fortunately, our economic interest protects honeybees. Beekeeping is a large business, for which millions of bees are farmed.

But the scenario is different when life forms go against our economic interests. Mosquitoes are one such species. Humans are directly in conflict with mosquitoes, which cause a number of diseases such as malaria and dengue, and insecticides are used to control their numbers. However, it is important to remember that mosquitoes play an important role in biodiversity, and killing them could prove to be devastating.

In a Forbes article, Matan Shelomi, Assistant Professor of Entomology at National Taiwan University, explains that not all mosquitoes are harmful, and that apart from their role in pollination and in the food chain, these insects also control the migrations of woodland caribou.

When massive herds of these animals in Canada move around in search of food, their route is often determined by their attempt to avoid mosquitoes. “Killing off these mosquitoes would change the historic caribou historical migration routes, with unpredictable consequences,” Shelomi explains.

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India is one of the megadiverse countries of the world

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the International Day for Biological Diversity 2020 will be commemorated through its first-ever online-only campaign.

The theme for 2020, ‘Our solutions are in nature’. The Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) states that “Despite all the technological advances we have made, humanity is completely dependent on healthy and vibrant ecosystems.” This has never been more apparent than now, as the world looks to heal from the Covid-19 pandemic and move forward to a new, more sustainable and environmentally friendly way of living.

As the theme suggests, we must find solutions to the problems faced by humankind in the natural world, and in doing so, we will ultimately align our interests with the protection of nature.

India is recognised as one of the world’s megadiverse countries, as its “varied edaphic, climatic and topographic conditions and years of geological stability has resulted in a wide range of ecosystems and habitats such as forests, grasslands, wetlands, deserts, and coastal and marine ecosystems”, according to the CBD.

With only 2.4 per cent of Earth’s land area, India accounts for 7-8 per cent of the recorded species in the world, including more than 45000 species of plants and 91,000 animal species. Sikkim, covering just 0.2 per cent of the geographical area of India, is home to 26 per cent of the country’s total biodiversity. The Himalayan state has been moving towards organic farming since 2003 when Chief Minister, H.E. Pawan Chamling, announced his vision for Sikkim to be India’s first organic state, which it achieved in January 2016.

Sikkim is home to nearly 700 species of butterflies including the iconic Kaiser-i-Hind. The Hindu reported that a team from Sikkim University found that organic farming has increased the species’ diversity and it “was even higher than the diversity in the nearby forest ecosystem”.

The article said “the team also identified 15 indicator species that can be used for long term ecological monitoring of the area” and “this included 11 habitat specialists, three monophagous, and two species that are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 (Schedule II)”. “These species are extremely sensitive and can survive only in a pristine environment”, Kishor Sharma, a PhD scholar at the university and first author of the study, said, adding that “by tracking their numbers and behaviour we can find out if there are any changes in the ecosystem”.

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