Biodiversity is a hot-button topic but what does 'biodiversity' mean and why does it matter? According to The Guardian, biodiversity, which refers to “the variety of life on Earth, in all its forms and all its interactions,” is “the most complex feature of our planet” as well as “the most vital.” Perhaps professor David Macdonald puts it best in declaring, “Without biodiversity, there is no future for humanity.”
Unfortunately, biodiversity is currently imperiled, and largely because of the impact of humans. The good news? Just as humans have contributed to the issue, so are they positioned to address it. If you’d like to join the fight, consider advanced studies in one of these five fields.
Entomology is the study of insects, and entomologists are the people who help us learn to manage them and/or use them to the benefit of humankind and to the planet.
Explains eXtension.org, “Insects are involved with virtually every part of our lives; they are pests that eat our food, our houses, our animals, and are vectors that spread sickness and disease. But insects aren’t all bad! Many insects are beneficial pollinators, decomposers of dead materials, and useful in the biocontrol of unwanted pests.”
“Tiny creatures matter -- and we keep finding more of them,” echoes American Scientist.
The Ecological Society of America (ESA) defines ecology as “the study of the relationships between living organisms, including humans and their physical environment; it seeks to understand the vital connections between plants and animals and the world around them.”
But the power of ecology doesn’t end there. Continues ESA, “Ecology also provides information about the benefits of ecosystems and how we can use Earth's resources in ways that leave the environment healthy for future generations.”
In other words, in studying these relationships, ecologists can help us not only understand the world around us better, but also how to coexist with them in the most mutually advantageous way.
Big data has changed the degree to which we can understand the changing state of biodiversity. Asserts research published in the academic journal, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, “There is an urgent need to document and understand nature at a rate that will provide us with an informed system-level response to the accelerating impacts that humans are having on the world. Major challenges will include food security, emerging diseases, managing natural and agricultural landscapes in a sustainable fashion and interactions with invasive species (native and alien); coinciding with an era of rapid environmental change.”
Enter biodiversity informatics. While challenging, this work is essential for biodiversity monitoring. Continues the article, “Bringing biodiversity analysis into the digital world will provide all people and jurisdictions with easy and rapid access to the authoritative and comprehensive evidence and knowledge that they need to make informed decisions. Advances in biodiversity informatics, computer technology and governance structures allow information to be shared and processed at unprecedented speed, creating an environment to enable truly rapid biodiversity analysis.”
“The association of biodiversity and urban ecosystems has usually concerned the impact of urbanization on biodiversity. However, biodiversity concepts can easily be applied to the urban ecosystem itself. As more and more people live in cities, restoration, preservation and enhancement of biodiversity in urban areas become important. Concepts related to biodiversity management such as scale, hierarchy, species identity, species values, fragmentation, global approaches can be used to manage urban biodiversity,” proposes Landscape and Urban Planning.
The takeaway? While urbanization can be a threat to biodiversity, it can also be a tool. “Enhancement of biodiversity in urban ecosystems can have a positive impact on the quality of life and education of urban dwellers and thus facilitate the preservation of biodiversity in natural ecosystems,” conclude researchers.
Our natural assets are priceless, and yet they don’t necessarily command a high value. Insists the European Commission, “We depend upon ‘ecosystem services’ provided by nature for free. Services like freshwater, fertile soil, clean air, fisheries and timber. But population growth, changing diets, urbanization and many other factors are damaging ecosystems and causing biodiversity to decline. While the world’s poor are most at risk, this loss has an impact on us all. It affects our health, wellbeing and livelihood.”
In studying the economic benefits of biodiversity as well as the economics of biodiversity loss, authorities in this field can both determine and demonstrate the value of nature in economic terms in order to help decision-makers fully recognize and prioritize biodiversity and sustainability measure.
“Our house is burning down and we're blind to it,” said French politician and former president of France Jacques Chirac at the 2002 Johannesburg Earth Summit. In pursuing PhD studies in one of these five biodiversity-friendly fields, you can play an important role in helping the world open its eyes toward positive -- and potentially planet-saving -- change.
Learn more about PhDs in Biodiversity.