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Biodiversity and Extinction

Is life diverse because species are meant to go extinct?

Ironic as it may sound, the purpose of life is extinction. A somewhat disturbing fact is that nearly all species that have ever lived on the Earth are now extinct. There is a theory that the telomeres, protective 'caps' on chromosomes, do not get passed on perfectly with each generation, leading to an eventual breakdown in a species' genetic robustness.

Environmental Science

This is particularly prevalent in more complex organisms. Considering that every other hominin species (and there have been more than 20 that we know of) has passed by way of extinction, the human species can expect to have a use-by date stamped somewhere in its genes.

The diversity of life, and the need to maintain it, is instinctive to our concept of a healthy planet. Biodiversity of an ecosystem is therefore both the diversity of species and the richness of these species. Long-term stability of an ecosystem depends on ensuring that the proportions of population numbers reflect the species' respective roles within the ecosystem, determined primarily by their trophic level.

Officially, Biodiversity is defined as the "totality of genes, species, and ecosystems of a region". The types of diversity involved are:

  • Taxonomic (species diversity)
  • Ecological (diversity of habitats)
  • Morphological (intraspecies genetic diversity)

Saving Biodiversity: a public perspective

Biodiversity and endangered species are two issues which are often bundled together, especially in NGO public awareness campaigns. However, saving a specific habitat for a single species is not necessarily the same as preserving a region's biodiversity.

CITES, the WWF, and other environmental organisations are concerned with the rapid depletion of biodiversity, and use certain endangered species, like the whale and panda, to promote pubic awareness of the problem. However, combating biodiversity does not mean targeting single species, but entails preserving a healthy genetic diversity of all species, populations, and communities, within a healthy, sustainable habitat.

This applies at all scales, whether a local area, a biome, or the planet as a whole.

Since the planet is spherical, the solar energy available for photosynthesis is not equitably distributed, creating zones with greater primary production (vegetation) than others. In addition to the latitude, factors such as location along coasts, precipitation, and altitude play significant roles in determining how rich an area is in terms of biodiversity.

Some conservation movements choose to focus on biodiversity 'hotspots', in order to obtain the greatest possible benefit. Choosing what to try to save is inevitably going to be controversial, in particular since the public, who fund these NGOs, are more likely to respond when the project is about a species with 'marketable' emotional response value.

Extinction is a 'Way of Life'

Ironic as it may sound, the purpose of life is extinction. A somewhat disturbing fact is that nearly all species that have ever lived on the Earth are now extinct. There is a theory that the telomeres, protective 'caps' on chromosomes, do not get passed on perfectly with each generation, leading to an eventual breakdown in a species' genetic robustness. This is particularly prevalent in more complex organisms. Considering that every other hominin species (and there have been more than 20 that we know of) has passed by way of extinction, the human species can expect to have a use-by date stamped somewhere in its genes.

Scientists are finding new species all the time, but estimates put the total of species as between 10 to 14 million. Only 10% of these (1.2 million) have been named. Life is truly diverse and rich.... and short-lived.

Mass Extinctions

There have been a number of periods in Earth's history in which life diversity has taken a dive. Particularly intensive and rapid periods of biodiversity depletion are termed 'Mass Extinction Events'.

Article by Andrew Bone, December 31, 2015

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