Functions of Biodiversity

Humans cannot exist without biodiversity as we use it directly and indirectly in a number of ways.

  • Direct use includes things like food, fibres, medicines and biological control, whilst indirect uses includes ecosystem services such as atmospheric regulation, nutrient cycling and pollination.
  • There are also non-use values of biodiversity, such as option value (for future use or non-use), bequest value (in passing on a resource to future generations), existence value (value to people irrespective of use or non-use) and intrinsic value (inherent worth, independent of that placed upon it by humans).

Many of these uses of biodiversity are not incorporated in economic accounts and this leads humans to under-value biodiversity. Ecosystem services and resources such as mineral deposits, soil nutrients, and fossil fuels are capital assets but traditional national accounts do not include measures of the depletion of these resources. This means a country could cut its forests and deplete its fisheries, and this would show only as a positive gain in GDP (gross national product) without registering the corresponding decline in assets (wealth). The relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem function is clear but a major question in ecology is how much biodiversity is required to maintain ecosystem function.

Ecosystem services are the suite of benefits that ecosystems provide to humanity. The Ecosystem services enhanced by Biodiversity are as follows:

  • Formation of Soil
  • Fertility of the soil
  • Increase in overall crop yield and fodder production
  • Increase in soil nutrient remineralization
  • Increases resistance to plant invasion
  • Decreases disease prevalence on plants
  • Increases soil organic matter

Ecosystem services

Ecosystem services are processes by which the environment produces benefits useful to people, akin to economic services. They include:

  • Provision of clean water and air
  • Pollination of crops
  • Mitigation of environmental hazards
  • Pest and disease control
  • Carbon sequestration

Accounting for the way in which ecosystems provide economic goods is an increasingly popular area of development. The concept of ecosystem services is similar to that of natural capital. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment released in 2005 showed that 60% of ecosystem services are being degraded or used unsustainably

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