Biodiversity Loss and Its Impact on Humanity
Earth is home to approximately 9 million species of plants, animals and fungi. Together they form complex ecosystems that undergird the stability of the natural world, and ultimately help to sustain human life. The study of ecosystem functioning is crucial to understanding how continuing loss of biodiversity could affect humanity’s future.
A 2012 metastudy published in the journal Nature, “Biodiversity Loss and its Impact on Humanity,” reviewed more than 1,700 papers — more than 20 years of research — that examined the loss of biodiversity within ecosystems and the implications for human civilization.
The study’s highlights include:
- There is “unequivocal evidence” that biodiversity loss reduces the efficiency with which ecosystems capture resources, produce biomass and decompose and recycle biologically essential nutrients.
- On balance, the data show that biodiversity helps with certain “provisions” in many ecosystems. Examples include “(1) intraspecific genetic diversity increases the yield of commercial crops; (2) tree species diversity enhances production of wood in plantations; (3) plant species diversity in grasslands enhances the production of fodder; and (4) increasing diversity of fish is associated with greater stability of fisheries yields.”
- Biodiversity helps regulate the functioning of ecosystems, including: “(1) increasing plant biodiversity increases resistance to invasion by exotic plants; (2) plant pathogens, such as fungal and viral infections, are less prevalent in more diverse plant communities; (3) plant species diversity increases above-ground carbon sequestration through enhanced biomass production … and (4) nutrient mineralization and soil organic matter increase with plant richness.”
- “[The] loss of higher consumers can cascade through a food web to influence plant biomass. Loss of one or a few top predator species can reduce plant biomass by at least as much as does the transformation of a diverse plant assemblage into a species monoculture.”
The authors suggest that additional research into the value of biodiversity is needed: “Although there are good estimates of society’s willingness to pay for a number of non-marketed ecosystem services, we still know little about the marginal value of biodiversity (that is, value associated with changes in the variation of genes, species and functional traits) in the production of those services.”
Tags: agriculture, development, biodiversity, metastudy
Read the study-related McClatchy News article titled "Biodiversity Helps Sustain Human Life, Scientists Say."
- Reporter's use of the study: Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study's findings and limits from this article?
- Reporter's use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. For example: Does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties (e.g., political groups, business leaders, or community members) and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?
Read the study titled "Biodiversity Loss and its Impact on Humanity."
- What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
- Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
- What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.
Newswriting and digital reporting assignments
- Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
- Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
- Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
- Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.
Class discussion questions
- What is the study’s most important finding?
- Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
- What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
- How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
- How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
- What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?