biodiversity and human health
Posted in: Healthy Living, Sustainability

Biodiversity and Your Health: Why Balance in Nature is Necessary

Everything is connected. Learn how biodiversity in our environments and also our bodies impact our health and what we can do to improve it.
biodiversity

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Biodiversity is the variety of life on Earth. It’s one of the things that makes our planet so beautiful, and it plays a vital role in keeping our ecosystem functioning smoothly and healthily. Biodiversity provides us with many benefits we may not even realize, but as time goes on, scientists are discovering more and more ways that biodiversity improves human health. Here are just a few ways biodiversity benefits your health.

This is post is all about how the balance of biodiversity affects your health.

biodiversity

Biodiversity in Humans

Have you ever wondered how our health is affected by biodiversity? Or did you know that biodiversity is declining and how it will affect us? Let’s find out, starting with the definition of biodiversity.

What is biodiversity?

Imagine all the life forms worldwide: fishes wandering around in the sea, trees creating oxygen for us to breathe, wild animals hunting, and children running at a park.

Then think of their differences, such as their genetic makeup that allows them to adapt to the environment and evolve, the ecosystems where they live, and the species which identifies them.

Biodiversity -an abbreviated form of biological diversity- refers to these differences between all life forms on Earth, including microorganisms. 

However, some also define it as the variability of life forms at a particular geographical location. 

Scientists categorize biodiversity into five categories: genetic diversity, organismal diversity, population diversity, species diversity, and ecosystem diversity.

biodiversity in the gut microbiome

Genetic Diversity

Genetic diversity is the differences and variations within a species, or within a group of species. It refers to all the different characteristics within that organism or population.

There are 1.75 million known species, and scientists identified around a billion genes from them. Each species has a different total number of genes.

However, gene number does not determine the complexity of an organism. Did you know that humans have about the same number of genes as a mouse?



The environment also determines how our genes will function. Read more about genes and the environment.

Genetic diversity is a vital characteristic of a healthy, thriving population. It improves survival rate. Greater genetic diversity within a species enables it to better adapt and survive climate change (1).

Organismal Diversity

The anatomical, physical, or behavioral variations in organisms are called organismal diversity

For instance, the salinity of water determines the filtering rate of rainbow trout and flounder’s kidneys.

So, the environment helps determine the anatomical properties of fishes and other organisms (including humans).

We can estimate a population’s potential genetic variety based on its size; larger groups of people typically have larger gene pools and, thus, more potential diversity.

Like genetic diversity, organismal diversity is very important for surviving environmental changes.



People with greater diversity in ancestry and genetic makeup, tend to have an advantage when it comes to disease resistance and more (2)!

Species Diversity

Species diversity is the differences in species’ number and evolutionary similarity in a geographical location. It refers to how many different organisms and their populations are in a given ecosystem.

An estimation by scientists states that the number of species on Earth could vary between 3.6 and 111.7 million!

The number and species richness in the environment around us is critical to everything we need to survive.



From the vast number of pollinators required to help us sustain our food crops, to the air we breathe and the water we drink.

Every single animal, plant, bacteria, fungi, and more serve a very essential purpose to keep us alive, and HEALTHY!

biodiversity importance
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Ecosystem Diversity

An ecosystem consists of the communities and species living in a particular area. Variations in an ecosystem are referred to as ecosystem diversity.

Ecosystem diversity is crucial because it helps to keep a balance in our global ecosystem. 

Why is biodiversity important?

All life forms on the Earth are dependent on biodiversity. Therefore, we should consider biodiversity as the foundation of our lives.

Biodiversity provides food, resources, healthy soil, and clean air. For example, plants are the source of most medicines, and we have a variety of crops as food sources.

How does biodiversity affect humans?

Here are 4 things to understand:

While there is growing evidence that nature benefits human health, there has been little research on how biodiversity affects human health.

More specifically, it’s necessary to have a more profound knowledge of the various areas in which biodiversity affects human health. 

We are connected and intertwined with the rest of the natural world regardless of how we choose to live our lives.


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1. The Human Gut Microbiome

Over 2000 microorganism species (that have so far been identified) reside in the gut. We contain about 40 trillion bacteria in our system.

Some of them are potentially harmful, but others help maintain our health in many ways, such as; cardiovascular health, immune system regulation, and central nervous system health.

The most important one is that the symbiotic interconnection between humans and beneficial microorganisms helps us to have a healthy digestive system.

Diversity within the human gut determines health and disease resistance. Low diversity, generally from a poor, nutrient-devoid diet contribute to immune decline and increases the chance of developing chronic diseases (3).

2. Mental Health

Forests, parks, gardens, or other biodiverse green environments help against stress and depression by enhancing mental and physical health even if you visit for a short time.

With a decline in biodiversity, we can expect a spike in mental health concerns.

biodiversity and you
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3. Prenatal Development

Green environments provide cleaner air and better support healthy pregnancies that city pollution.

4. Obesity and Other Chronic Diseases

Living near a park or natural area reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes by motivating outdoor activities.

We discussed some aspects of biodiversity benefits to our health. However, our welfare is in danger due to the sharp decline of biodiversity.

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What causes a decline in biodiversity, and how does it affect our health?

The most dangerous species mainly make the threat of unprecedented decline in biodiversity on Earth is humans.

Human intelligence and adaptability are what survived us from extinction.

However, human activities such as wrong economic and social policies that allow continued use of natural resources accelerated the decline in biodiversity and the end of other species by 1000 times.

Today, nearly one million species are on the verge of disappearing.

More importantly, it is dangerous to think that the extinction of a species or the collapse of an ecosystem will not affect us or that humans will always invent a solution.

Interconnections of all life forms in an ecosystem are essential.

Even the extinction of one species that you might think is not significant could start a chain reaction capable of affecting the system.

Another cause of the decline in biodiversity is ecological collapse.

It happens when an ecosystem suffers natural disasters, overpopulation of humans, industrial activities, climate change, wildlife trade, or pollution.

 

These incidents affect biodiversity and also human health seriously.

For instance, as we continue to build and expand continuously around our environment, wildlife and domestic animals will be close to each other.


The Secret Life of Your Microbiome: Read about biodiversity within your body.


Harmful pathogens could migrate from wildlife animals to domestic animals.

This situation is called genetic spillover or spillover infection. Moreover, remember the symbiotic beneficial microorganisms that we have.

Wildlife animals also have microorganisms in their systems.

They live perfectly with their microorganisms; however, it could be deadly for us to contract a microorganism from them. Such as in the case of COVID-19, where a zoonotic pathogen possibly caused a pandemic.

Life on Earth has been present for over 3.8 billion years.

Some life forms ceased to exist, and some adapted to their habitat and evolved.

As for the remaining ones, we should appreciate the benefits of biodiversity and preserve nature. Otherwise, by corrupting the natural balance, we put ourselves at risk.

So, How Can We Support Biodiversity?

There are a lot of ways to protect biodiversity. The first way is by creating a map or a checklist that shows what type of species are in an area. 

 

Keeping track of biological diversity can help ensure everything is adequately recorded and we’re not overlooking any important detail. 

 

Secondly, we can elect officials who will work to preserve certain areas or set them aside for future generations to study.

Protecting land will allow people to learn more about all the different plants, animals, and fungi found in the area and benefit biodiversity.

Plant Native Plants and Avoid Invasive Species

 

For centuries, humans have lived with the same plants, animals, and fungi populations in their ecosystems. But, unfortunately, invasive plants can wreak havoc on native plants.

 

For example, various non-native plant species (such as kudzu) have become invasive and threatened biodiversity across much of the United States. In addition, some popular fruit trees are considered invasive in particular climates, yet some nurseries still sell them. 

 

To protect your local ecosystem, learn which plants are native to your area and avoid all invasive types.

References and Further Reading


  1. Why is Genetic Diversity Important? | U.S. Geological Survey. (n.d.). Retrieved September 14, 2022, from https://www.usgs.gov/news/why-genetic-diversity-important
  2. Phillips, E. M., Odunlami, A. O., & Bonham, V. L. (2007). Mixed Race: Understanding Difference in the Genome Era. Social Forces, 86(2), 795–820. https://doi.org/10.1093/sf/86.2.795
  3. Thursby, E., & Juge, N. (2017). Introduction to the human gut microbiota. Biochemical Journal, 474(11), 1823–1836. https://doi.org/10.1042/bcj20160510
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This post was all about how we can support biodiversity to protect our health.

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