This blog is part of a series of blogs from ACE Recycling in recognition of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.  This series focuses on changes you can make to decrease your carbon footprint, lessen your water impact and help the environment. This is done through a series of educational blogs to increase understanding of words like biodiversity. These changes are intended to be user-friendly.  Being environmentally responsible has the added benefit of being healthier and more cost-effective.  The goal is to create fun and engaging activities for the whole family.  Simple changes to our everyday lives have big impacts on our health and the health of our planet.    #EarthDay2020 #EarthRise2020 #ActsofGreen #ACERecyclingBlog  #SmallChangesBigImpacts

In our previous two discussions (#EarthDay2020: Water 101 & #EarthDay2020: Water & Us), we looked at the importance of water, the issues associated with its availability, and small actions that can be done to conserve. But with all this environmental talk and discussions about saving the environment, what exactly does this boil down to. What precisely are we looking to save?

Biodiversity in the US

What is Biodiversity?

Biodiversity, or more specifically, biological diversity, is “the variety of life on Earth at all its levels, from genes to ecosystems, and can encompass the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes that sustain life.” Now, I know this definition may seem like a mouthful to process and understand; however, it’s all-encompassing of the depth that comes with the true meaning of “biodiversity.”

Let’s break down this definition and understand each component:

  1. “The variety of life of Earth at all its levels”: This phrase can be referring to one of many ways we see the environment in “levels,” and most likely refers to the trophic levels. Trophic levels are a bit like the “hierarchy” of living things, most often represented as a “food chain”. Energy flows from one trophic level to the next in the form of food. The energy begins with plants converting the sun’s energy into the food they need to survive.

Energy Flow in Healthy Ecosystem

Here we see the “hierarchy” of the trophic levels. At the bottom, there are “producers,” or we can simply say plants or any organisms that can perform photosynthesis (using the sun to make its food from carbon dioxide and oxygen). Above the producers, there are “primary consumers,” which are simply animals that eat plants or photosynthetic organisms, all herbivores (animals that only eat plants) are primary consumers. Now, all the levels above “primary consumers” are carnivores (they consume other animals). However, they are carnivores that have different predation pressures.

Consequently, secondary consumers are more likely to be prey than tertiary consumers. We can assume the same pattern with tertiary and quaternary consumers. For example, a lizard is a secondary consumer. The lizard is more likely to be prey than the eagle that preys on it. Most quaternary consumers are what we call apex predators. They often do not have predators, other than man.

2. “from genes to ecosystems”: This phrase refers to the aspects of life encompassing biological diversity. These components can be as small as the “genes” or as large as “ecosystems.” Both either make up life or hold life.

We’ve probably seen the super intense scenes in criminal shows where they reveal the blood sample matches the suspect’s DNA, and then the case is solved. From these criminal shows, we come to have a basic understanding of DNA; it is what makes us unique or different from one another. Although this is not entirely the case, the general idea is accurate (there continues to be a scientific discussion on what regions of DNA makes us unique, but this topic is not the purpose of this blog). This idea of DNA becomes very important when we look at genes because DNA is a string of genes. Genes, along with DNA, are what make up life.

DNA is the basis of biodiversity

It is for this very reason that when looking at biodiversity, even the smallest aspect of life, such as genes, is considered. Genes, DNA, and other genetic components are units of life that make living things unique from one other; it is the central reason as to why there is such diversity among ecosystems. While we’ve come to understand what makes up life, we need to recognize what holds life. Ecosystems are the bigger picture when looking at biological diversity. An ecosystem includes a collection of different organisms, whether it be plants, animals, or even microorganisms (such as bacteria) that interact with one another, along with their physical environment. Recall the above discussion about trophic levels, the different organisms at each level interacting with one another is what forms an ecosystem. The more genetically diverse these organisms are, the more stable the ecosystem.

Biodiversity allows for healthy food webs

In our water discussion, we briefly mentioned the importance of conserving water to keep plants (this includes our crops like lettuce or cotton) and aquatic life alive. When the word “conservation” comes into mind, some may be quick to think about “animal conservation.” Others may think of the work that many ecologists, zoologists, and environmentalists have dedicated their lives to doing. But “animal conservation” or “conservation” in general, should not be focused on “saving” animals or the earth, it should be more profound than that. It’s about preserving the balance that exists between humans, wildlife, and the earth. In essence, when we are looking at “conservation,” whether it be for water, plants, or animals, what we are truly looking at is the need and importance of maintaining biodiversity.

3. “and can encompass the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes that sustain life”: At long last, we’ve come to the final section of our definition. Here we are looking at the different processes that help “sustain life”: the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes.

– The evolutionary process examines how organisms have changed over time. There are different ways we can explore evolution, but what’s important here is that we can discuss these “changes”. Looking at the changes allows us to better how our environment is different from that of the past.

– The ecological process includes a variety of things that occur in the environment. These occurrences include the water cycle, the carbon cycle, photosynthesis by plants, etc. These processes, in combination, form the interactions between non-living (such as water) and living things (animals, humans, plants). The interplay between living and nonliving is crucial in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

– The cultural process takes into account the interaction humans have with their environment. As surprising as it may seem, humans are very much a component in biological diversity. Interactions, such as water usage, agriculture, and deforestation (cutting down trees for the use of its wood) impact the environment. These interactions are a part of human culture and directly link to customs and commerce. The cultural aspect of the different processes mentioned above emphasizes the many ways humans interact with their environment.

Now that we understand biodiversity or biological diversity, we’ve come to learn what we are trying to conserve. However, we still need to know why.

Carla Salas

Carla Salas

This article was written by Carla Salas, who has been working with ACE Recycling in conjunction with her schooling. Carla is a current college student attending her last year at Grand Canyon University. She is majoring in Environmental Science with a focus in Chemistry, along with a minor in Pre-Law. Her future goals include getting a Master’s/P.h.D in Environmental Science along with going to law school to eventually become an environmental lawyer to fight and advocate for environmental justice for vulnerable communities. As a member of the Latinx and Hispanic culture and as a bilingual Chicana/Mexican-American community member, she is passionate about providing equal access to environmental education and justice through her bilingual skills.  The proverb below summarizes her passion for environmental justice and her belief for all communities to be able to access the resources needed for a healthy life.  “La aqua y la comida es sagrada y nunca se desprecia”  “Both water and food are sacred and should never be despised (disdained)”.

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