By Clive Tesar, Head of Communications, WWF Global Arctic Programme
In the Arctic, simple can be deadly – that is, when you’re talking about ecosystems. This was one of the messages brought to a symposium in Ottawa by respected McGill University biologist Graham Bell.
He was explaining the role of biodiversity to an audience of politicians and policy people. As Bell put it, “Greater diversity spreads the risk and provides insurance against disaster.” If there are more species in a system (say the Arctic ocean) it is more likely if you take away one of those species (due to over-exploitation, or environmental change) that other species can and will fill the gap in that system. Arctic systems are simpler, with fewer species, therefore if you take away a particular species (or more than one) the risk of total system collapse is greater.
So why should we care about biodiversity? Bell had an answer for that too; ecosystem services. Purified water, clean air, and more productive land, are all linked to biodiversity: “All of them depend on the productivity and resilience of the community, its ability to persist in nearly the same state (and therefore to continue to provide the services we need) despite stress.”
Considering the importance of biodiversity, Bell believes we still know surprisingly little about it. He argues for the need for a better inventory of biodiversity, so we can better understand how systems work. He believes there is also a theory gap – that we do not understand the indirect effects of removing any component (such as a species) from a system, nor do we understand the effects of evolution within systems.
This sort of understanding of systems and their importance underpins WWF’s work. At the heart of conservation is the message that biodiversity is not important just for its own sake, or for the sake of polar bears. It is important for all of us, who rely on the service provided by natural systems. Conservation is the art of keeping those systems in balance.