Summary ꙳ Objectives
▹ Biodiversity is the fabric of Life on Earth. It's not just about the many species of insects, fungi, birds, reptiles, mammals... It's also about the various Earth habitats. It surrounds us wherever we live, there be in a rich Amazonian forest or in a busy modern city. Yes, it is there in our city houses, on our city streets, in our city parks, we just have to learn to look for it.
Here is a set of activities to remind us of Biodiversity's wonders and how important it is to protect it.
Explore with us what is Biodiversity, what threatens 'it' and what we can do to protect 'it'. Then focus on the species who live among us, right here around our houses, our trees, parks, woods.
Get a Naturalist mindset. Explore Citizen Science and how to contribute to helping scientists all over the world with the recording of our observations. Learn what kind of information to record, and how to submit it using the iNaturalist app & platform.
Get outside as much as you can, and make it a habit to observe and follow your local wildlife throughout the season. Enjoy! ツ
Type » Lesson
Level » Explorer + Naturalist
When? » Anytime
Where? » Part Outdoors
Time » 2 hr+ & sketch/record anytime you're out there.
Themes & Skills
Biodiversity ⋆ Species ⋆ Ecosystems ⋆ Focus ⋆ Observing ⋆ Recording ⋆ Science Methods ⋆ Systems Thinking ⋆ Natural Processes/Cycles ⋆ Citizen Science
"Biodiversity can't be maintained by protecting a few species in a zoo, or by preserving greenbelts or national parks. To function properly, nature needs more room than that. It can maintain itself, however, without human expense, without zookeepers, park rangers, foresters or gene banks... "— Donella Meadows
While pretty much everybody now knows about Climate Change, less than 5% of our population understands what biodiversity is. Even less knows about the current threats or the fact that we crossed in 2016 a biodiversity loss safe threshold, and that we are in a midst of what has been long qualified among scientists as the Anthropocene extinction. Generally, the vast majority of us do not grasp why it is critical to protect it.
Our goal here is not to dramatize, we are only stating the obvious science so that we can act. Our intent is rather to make that science accessible and raise awareness than to make it actionable and help people understand that it is not an end. We can act now, we can help and mitigate some of our impacts.
That's what this lesson is about: unearthing the magic of biodiversity and reacquainting ourselves with systems thinking so that we embrace and protect Biodiversity... After all, we owe 'it' our very Life. Happy exploration to all! ツ
"There are millions of different kinds of animals and plants in the world. Millions of different solutions to the problems of staying alive."
Take some time, do some research and learn about biodiversity and its importance with your companions. Share knowledge, and discuss what you learn. Here are some starting points to explore together or alone.
What is Biodiversity?
Biodiversity is simply the variability among all living organisms from all sources, including terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part of; this includes diversity within species (genetic), between species, and of ecosystems.
How many species are there on Earth?
Around 1.5 million of the Earth's species have been cataloged so far, and it is generally said that distinct species amount to millions more. How many in total? It is quite hard to estimate that number. Some current estimations (2011 estimates) put the number of distinct species at about 8.7 million +/- 1.3 million (give or take).
It does not matter if that number is 10 million, 100 million, or a trillion. The important thing to focus on is that we are only one species among those millions, most of those other species are quite older than us. What is important to contrast is the impact of our single species on the full spectrum of all other species.
Do you know, for instance, that 10000 years ago we constituted less than 0.01% of the total terrestrial mammal biomass, and that we, with our pets and livestock, may now account for some 97% of that total biomass? That is, in 10000 years or so, the impact of our species 'success' in conquering over species and lands amounted to a radical depletion of all other species both in volume within a species (defaunation) and in the total number of distinct species (extinction).
Defaunation and extinction are outcomes of the Global Biodiversity Loss. It is a rapid loss (i.e., related to the number of species that we are losing), generally evaluated through what's known as the species extinction rate. That rate is estimated by experts to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate (that is the extinction rate that would occur if we humans were not around). An illustration of this is the ongoing scientific survey (LPI) that looks at species decline indicators across different regions worldwide, which reported in 2016 that in the past 40 years or so, global populations of animals have halved.
What is causing that radical loss? What are the threats?
Yes, extinction happens naturally, however, the current rate of extinction is astronomical. So much so that scientists describe that extinction as the 6th Mass extinction. Except this is the first one that is driven by one of its species: Homo Sapiens –the fancy scientific denomination of our species. This is also why this geological era is called the Anthropocene and is viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.
The threats are numerous. Concretely these are:
- Habitat loss and degradation. This is the most important threat at this time and is felt in all the habitats on Earth. One does not realize that our species has altered around 80% of ice-free lands; that 60% of the planet has been transformed for human use; and that 40% is just for our food production (check our Eco-ethics presentation for detailed references).
- Environmental degradation and pollution (pesticides, water pollution, air pollution, plastic pollution)
- Global climate change with its rapid effect on marine habitats and the overall effect on all terrestrial habitats also triggers behavior changes in species (provided these species have the time to change or move).
- Overexploitation (hunting, cultural resource uses, exotic wildlife trade, and commercial overharvesting)
- Invasive species (in all habitats) and disease.
The good news is that these threats are 'identifiable' and that we can educate ourselves, collaborate, correct harmful ways and learn how to do better. Protecting biodiversity in all its richness, for what it is and for ourselves, is key for the health of the planet and humanity. Doing better is not conceptually hard, it is how to control ourselves as a whole that is the problem. But once again: Together we can!
This activity promotes alertness and awakes enthusiasm — Learning without enthusiasm is pretty much time wasted, this is why it is important to make sure that enthusiasm is present at the beginning of a circle or an activity. Infuse it if it is missing.
This is a fun game demonstrating food chains and other ecological concepts in a lively, experiential way.
"What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make." ― Jane Goodall
We know the threats, then let's act. It is really up to us. For the same reason that any of our small bad individual habits have a collective international impact, there are no good actions that are "too small" either (not there are 7.6 billion humans). This activity highlights all those actions, big and small, that we can make. Explore and discuss together these solutions and think about other solutions.
An important and reassuring consideration is that we are primarily a cooperative species, or we would not have been able to build our mega-societies. An illustration of our ability to tackle a problem together is the case of ozone depletion and the development and implementation of an international treaty known as the Montreal Protocol. Indeed, very quickly after the scientific discovery of the depletion of the Ozone layer, 197 countries came together in 1987 and agreed on an international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of numerous substances that are responsible for ozone depletion. It happened very rapidly, because 'us', our nations understood the threat and decided to act together. We've done it, and we can do it again!
But what it takes is knowledge, and gaining that knowledge via rigorous methods. It then requires transforming our awareness and knowledge into actions. We need to get involved in our communities and act locally while thinking globally.
Global Biodiversity Conservation Efforts
Countless global programs, scientists, and conservationists are working at preserving species, and whole ecosystems worldwide. Here is an excellent educational video (Source: California Academy of Sciences) that highlights the critical work done in the conservation field.
One of the big issues that these conservation leaders and organizations face every day is how isolated and ignored they are (when not plainly dismissed). Most of the media focus on Climate change which overall seems easier to tackle than a Biodiversity "crisis" affecting countless species and all our habitats. But it is agreed upon that this crisis is as important as Climate Change, both in magnitude and impact on humanity.
This is a vast subject that deserves its own dedicated page. But today, in the context of this circle lesson, we're going to focus on local actions. It is organizations like ours that make a difference at this time by raising awareness, developing ecological literacy, improving ecological ethics, with connecting people with their local environment.
'Action' starts with knowledge. One needs first to acknowledge/understand that there is a problem before this can foster a will to resolve it. If there is no acknowledgment of the existence of a problem, then what's there to solve? It is as simple as that...
Ref: The following actions list is inspired by, augmented, and updated from 10 things you can do to help biodiversity by David Hooper (Dept. of Biology, Western Washington University)
So what can we do locally? First, educate ourselves responsibly and intelligently. Second, join a local conservation organization.
Also, with some simple changes of habit, we can lessen our own adverse effects. Here are a few rather simple things that will help reduce our own environmental impact, and thereby our adverse impact on biodiversity. Many of them help in multiple ways.
- 1. Reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers in lawn care. These often run off of lawns into adjacent lakes and streams with adverse effects on the plants and animals living there. Check the web for advice.
- 2. Get involved with ecological restoration efforts in your area. Most areas have groups active in restoration. By volunteering, you can help restore habitats for native species and eliminate invasive species, all while learning something about your local plants and animals and getting active out in the fresh air. Check with local conservation or restoration groups about the prospects of enhancing or restoring habitat on your property, or in your city.
- 3. Refuse, Reduce, Reuse & Recycle, with an emphasis on the first one. The more each of us reduces the demand for new resources, the less habitat conversion will be necessary to get those resources or the energy to make the products we demand, and the less waste goes into the landfill. As for plastics: Learn recyclable plastic can only be recycled up to 3 times, and that those famous biodegradable plastics are not "The Solution" as they do not degrade in normal temperature conditions and have to be specially processed (therefore they're not truly biodegradable). Remember to refuse that straw, to bring your own cutlery (therefore avoiding single usage fork and knife), bring your own water bottle, and your own coffee mug... (Learn more about how to curb our addiction to plastics, and have fun in exploring plastic alternatives).
- 4. Don't buy more than you can eat, or it's a waste –a waste at more levels than you can think of since it costs environmentally in the first place to produce it, transport it, package it...
- 5. Compost what you can. Composting reduces the overall waste stream and thereby the need for landfill space, and it also provides natural slow-release fertilizer for your flowers or vegetable garden.
- 6. Use environmentally friendly products for cleaning. This reduces chemical contamination of habitats both during manufacturing and when those chemicals go down the drain.
- 7. Eat less meat: it matters and it's easy! Go vegetarian for a day and more. Simple to remember: the agro-industry is the major driver of habitat loss and natural resource consumption. There's tons of science info on the topic over the web (it's almost overwhelming). You can check this article: it has good data and infographics.
- 8. Grow your own vegetables. There is a movement of Green City Growers taking place in many modern countries. And it is a good idea: it connects us with our food, and reduces our carbon footprint, since it skips the transport and the packaging of those products, and avoids the use of harmful pesticides. Check with your city for such organizations.
- 9. Buy local organic food. This helps reduce inputs of fertilizers and pesticides into the environment, which in turn reduces negative impacts on nearby beneficial insects (for pollination and pest control) and adjacent aquatic biodiversity. Organic foods are increasingly available, even in regular supermarkets. Your favorite place to shop doesn’t offer any? Start requesting it!
- 10. Buy sustainably harvested seafood. Much of our seafood, though delicious, is not harvested sustainably – either for the individual species itself or for those species that are unlucky enough to be ensnared as “bycatch”. Some trawlers destroy extensive seafloor habitat in the process of catching fish; many shrimp farms destroy mangrove forests important as nurseries for wild fish species. Learn certified sustainable seafood labels such as the MSC label.
Energy use - By reducing your energy demand, you reduce carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming, and also reduce the need to disturb habitats for fossil fuel prospecting and extraction. Bonus: you save money!
- 11. Aim for energy conservation in your home. Push your city towards 100% Renewable energy facilities and programs. Design your next house to be fully energy-efficient.
- 12. Reduce single-person car use. Each gallon of gasoline burned releases ~20 pounds of the greenhouse gas CO2. Carpooling, public transport, walking, and bicycling are often options.
"When you have seen one ant, one bird, one tree, you have not seen them all." ― E. O. Wilson
Everywhere, there are prime signs that there's wildlife around you. Even one tree alone is a biodiversity treasure. Trees provide food, shelter, and building material, clean our air, and cool down our cities. They provide so much for us, and also to all insects and animals that live around us. We invite you to discover your wildlife community through the lenses of the trees, the bushes, and generally the plants living right next door to you.
Pull your Nature journal out, your iNaturalist app, and stalk a few species throughout time... You'll see it's addictive, but it's a good kind of addiction!
Nature Journaling Urban Wildlife
We have a few circle lessons just for that: giving you many keys to learning how to observe and sketch wildlife. Check out our Nature Sketching lessons and have fun!
Participating in Citizen Science Wherever you Are...
Citizen science (CS) is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part by non-nonprofessional scientists. Citizen science may be performed by individuals, teams, or networks of volunteers. Citizen scientists often partner with professional scientists to achieve common goals. Large volunteer networks often allow scientists to accomplish tasks that would be too expensive or time-consuming to accomplish through other means.
Why Join? Because it's fun, it fuels curiosity and outdoor experiences, it's community-driven, and it helps tremendously the scientific community so that in return we can do better at preserving the fabric of Life that Biodiversity is.
Become an EwA iNaturalist and start adding your own observations.
We never miss an opportunity to get outside as often as we can throughout the seasons. Life is busy for all, but we make sure we set an hour aside every week to explore our local biodiversity with our Nature journal and with the iNat Project App.
Every time we go out for doing chores and such, we check for movements of birds and mammals, record trees and bugs, and pop out our journal for a quick sketch. Once home, we check our identifications by looking through our guides and browsing websites that list local species. Doing so we solidify our learning and knowledge, we get more familiar with our surroundings each time, and we grow our appreciation of what we have right here at home.
» Biodiversity & Conservation
Why is biodiversity so important? by Preshoff, K. (TED Education)
Public awareness of the biodiversity crisis is virtually non-existent by Vaughan, A (2010)
Biodiversity is below safe levels across more than half of world's land: study by Vaughan, A (2016)
Vanishing fauna by Vignieri, S. (2014)
Systems Thinking: Ecological understanding requires shifting to a new way of thinking by the Center for Ecoliteracy (2012)
Are We Any Closer to Knowing How Many Species There Are on Earth? by Geoffrey, G. in Scientific American (2014)
How many species on Earth? About 8.7 million, new estimate says by Census of Marin Life (2011)
2016 Living Planet Report (2016) —The 2016 Living Planet Report is the eleventh edition of WWF's flagship publication. The biennial report, produced in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network, uses the global LPI as a measure of the health of 14,152 populations of 3,706 species.
Sixth mass extinction: The era of 'biological annihilation' by Sutter, J. (2017)
Defining the Anthropocene by Lewis, S.L. & Maslin, M.A. in Nature 519, 171–180 (2015)
Practical Eco-Ethics in the Anthropocene by Earthwise Aware (2017)
Why is biodiversity in crisis? by IUCN Red List (2010)
Conservation and the race to save biodiversity by the California Academy of Sciences
10 things you can do to help biodiversity by Hooper, D. (Dept. of Biology, Western Washington University)
Biodiversity conservation: The key is reducing meat consumption by Machovina, B. & al. (2015)
Eating Less Meat? It Matters & It’s Easy Earthwise Aware (2017)
Curbing our Addiction to Plastics Earthwise Aware (2017)
» Art & Reflection
Sharing Nature » A movement to help people deepen their relationship with nature.
Nature & Naturalist Journaling » Why, How to… » With references & examples of wonderful nature sketchers and observers to reassure and inspire us.
The EwA Naturalist Daybag » Preparation is key, our Nature bag is always ready to go, so don't have to think about and risk forgetting important items!