Why is Biodiversity so important for all of us here in Ontario?
Watch this video as we interviewed local Ontario farmers, chefs, beekeepers, and vineyard owners to learn about how biodiversity affects agriculture, sustainable tourism, and the local economy in our province, and what you can do to prevent further biodiversity loss.
What is Biodiversity?
Biodiversity, or “biological diversity”, is the variety of life on Earth. It includes all living things and the ways they interact with each other and their environment. Simply put, biodiversity is life.
There are three levels of biodiversity:
Species Diversity refers to all of the different types of species found in a certain habitat, ecosystem or region. Scientists have identified more than 1.4 million species worldwide, but they estimate that there are many more species that have not yet been identified. In Ontario, there are 30,000 known species of vascular and non-vascular plants, invertebrates and non-vertebrates.
Genetic Diversity: Genes are the building blocks that create species. For example, genes determine your hair and eye colour. The genetic differences among individuals within a species are called genetic diversity. Species with greater genetic diversity can more early adapt to a changing environment over time.
Ecosystem Diversity is the variety of different ecosystems within a larger region. Ontario is home to a broad assortment of ecosystems, including prairies, forests and woodlands, wetlands and tundra.
Why is conserving Biodiversity in Ontario so important?
Biodiversity is about being connected. All species, including humans, depend on each other to survive. Humans depend, directly and indirectly, on biodiversity for clean air and water, food and fiber, fuel, medicine, and amazing outdoor tourism experiences like hiking, fishing and canoeing.
Ontario is a vast province that covers more than 1,000,000 km2 of the Earth’s surface. We have the largest economy in Canada and a high quality of life that attracts people from around the world. Not only does Ontario’s biodiversity include unique plants and animals, its boreal forest plays a crucial part in managing climate change as its conservation keeps vast amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere. Our wealth and prosperity, our quality of life and our well-being are directly tied to the province’s biodiversity.
How are Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism connected?
Biodiversity, at the level of species and ecosystems, provides an important foundation for many aspects of tourism. Recognition of the great importance to tourism economies of attractive landscapes and a rich biodiversity underpins the political and economic case for biodiversity conservation. A well-managed tourism sector can contribute significantly to reducing threats to, and maintain or increase, key wildlife populations and biodiversity values through tourism revenue.
This entails ensuring greater control and management to reduce damage to biodiversity from tourism, as well as pursuing the positive contribution of tourism to biodiversity awareness, protected areas, habitat restoration, community engagement, and resource mobilization.
United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity has chosen ‘Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism’ as the theme for the International Day for Biological Diversity 2017. The celebration aims at supporting the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development which is being commemorated worldwide throughout 2017. The International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development emphasizes the role of the tourism sector in the preservation of ecosystems and in raising awareness on the uniqueness of biodiversity.
What is at stake for us from Biodiversity Loss?
Our planet is undergoing a biodiversity crisis. Globally, at least 16,000 species are threatened with extinction, including 12 percent of birds, 23 percent of mammals and 32 percent of amphibians. Human impacts are causing this environmental crisis — extensive development, deforestation, pollution and climate change are destroying the homes and habitat of wildlife around the world.
To date, southern Ontario alone has lost more than 70 percent of its wetland habitats, 98 percent of its grasslands, and 80 percent of its forests. Over 200 plants and animal species are now classified as at-risk of becoming extinct in Ontario. Ontario’s woodland caribou are declining by about 11 percent annually, and nearly all Ontario’s turtle species are at risk of becoming locally extinct.
Loss of biodiversity leads to the loss of “ecosystem services” that nature provides that are essential to the functioning of our society and economy. These services include:
providing materials such as food, fuels and fibres;
regulating climate, disease outbreaks, wastes and pollination;
supporting processes such as nutrient cycling and water purification; and,
providing opportunities for aesthetic, recreational and spiritual use.
Protecting the environment and biodiversity is more than a moral responsibility - it has important consequences for human health and welfare. It is our responsibility, as citizens of Ontario, to conserve the diverse species and ecosystems that are found in our province, for the sake of our own wellbeing, and for the sake of future generations.
This is Part I of a 5-part blog series, as part of our Biodiversity Video Campaign.
For more information about how you can help support Biodiversity in Ontario, please visit Biodiversity Education and Awareness Network (BEAN), or subscribe to their newsletter.