As we end this first decade of the 21st Century the United Nations have announced 2010 as being the International Year for Biodiversity.
"Biodiversity is the variation of life forms within a given ecosystem, biome , or for the entire earth. Biodiversity is often used as a measure of the health of biological systems. The biodiversity found on Earth today consists of many millions of distinct biological species, which is the product of nearly 3.5 billion years of evolution."
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“Whatever befalls the Earth, befalls the people on the Earth. Man did not weave the web of life. He is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself.” - Cheif Seattle
Life is a complex web all things are interconnected. Alter the balance for example in a single ecosystem and all species will be affected. A prime example of this was illustrated in the March edition of National Geographic Magazine. In his outstanding article Wolf Wars, writer Douglas Chadwick's description of the characteristics of the wolf, brings to light the essential part this apex predator has to play in the complex web of an ecosystem:
"Wolves, when you get down to it, are a lot like us.
They are powerful, aggressive, territorial, and predatory.
They are smart, curious, cooperative, loyal, and adaptable.
They exert a profound influence on the ecosystems they inhabit."
According to Chadwick, the wolves were released into Yellowstone Park in 1995 and 1996 and from there the packs grew. The economic benefits to the park were around US$35 million added to the economy each year. That's a figure not to be ignored. Nor are the environmental benefits the reintroduction of the wolves into Yellowstone hold.
The imbalance caused by the eradication of the resident wolf packs onwards from 1926 Chadwick noted that staff at Yellowstone were culling Elk in the thousands. With no predators to keep the population under control elk numbers exploded, resulting in over grazing of key habitats in the area. With the reintroduction of the wolf packs the numbers of elk have been halved over the last 15 years. A change in the elk herd's behaviour has also occurred with pack hunted animals now more vigilant and no longer remaining in favourite winter feeding areas. This has resulted in the Aspen, Willow and Cottonwood being able to grow without the intense browsing pressure the elk had placed upon these tree species before the reintroduction of the packs.
Other benefits have occurred with the wolves returning. Beaver numbers have climbed since 1996 when only one colony was recorded in 1996 by 2009 there were 12. Chadwick observed at a location named Crystal Creek with a beaver dam in place other species had also benefited
"Along Crystal Creek I find another recent beaver dam storing water, releasing a more constant flow for riparian species downstream through the dry months. Ponds and marshes that form behind the dams create habitat for moose, muskrat, mink, waterfowl, wading birds, and an array of other wildlife. "
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With the return of the wolves cougars that had previously been hunting in the valleys returned to their natural terrain of steep rocky areas. The wolves had also killed over half of the resident Coyote population. While the coyotes remain they do not have the same significant presence before the wolves were reintroduced. Chadwick also noted that with less competition from the elk for grasses, the resident bison may be doing better than ever
Naturally there had been opposition to the wolves returning. Ranchers have lost livestock to wolves but some are now taking better precautions to ensure their stock is kept safe from the packs. This is one example where an ecosystem can be restored for the benefit of all. You can see this depicted in a comprehensive illustration Before and After Wolves
Biodiversity is all around us. It's how we treat it that matters. Our earth is the only thing we have and the life upon it should be treasured and taken care of. Lose it we lose ourselves. In this year that celebrates the diversity of life stop for a moment and consider the incredible variety of life we have in our own backyards and the in the world beyond. Man has a lot to answer for in the willful destruction of species and of habitats in the land and in the oceans. Let's hope that in 50 years we won't be looking back and saying "I remember when we had whales living in the oceans and African Lions hunting in the night - oh how I wish they hadn't been wiped out like that." Right now that is what is going on. Slowly but surely as we take our world for granted species of all kinds are fast vanishing. Do we want that legacy.