Biodiversity in the New Year: Look to the Birds

Biodiversity in the New Year: Look to the Birds

Contributed by Marielle Grenade-Willis

As 2017 draws to a close and the new year looms closer, it seems a good time to pause and reflect about the term biodiversity and its indicators. What does it mean and why should we care about it in terms of nonhuman animal capabilities like those of birds?

Although brought to the attention of the scientific community by Walter G. Rosen in the mid-1980s, the concept of biological diversity was not officially adopted by conservation biologists until Thomas Lovejoy, a National Geographic scientist, coined the term. Simply put, biodiversity is the “variability among living organisms from all sources, including terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are a part; this includes diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems.” Essentially, the more complex and nuanced, the healthier the ecosystem state is.

One of the largest threats to biodiversity (brought up by scientists again and again in the past year) is the ongoing sixth mass extinction and one of the best indicators of well-functioning biodiversity is birds. In honor of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act turning 100 in 2018, National Geographic is launching “Year of the Bird” to honor how important birds are to flourishing ecosystems and the world at large. Migratory birds have been used as markers for intact biodiversity since the end of the 20th century, and environmental changes prompted by coastal and public land management, agriculture, and climate change have affected their migratory trends.

As we enter 2018, perhaps we can turn our eyes upward to watch a flock of geese flying over and revel in the amazing capabilities of these birds who travel thousands of miles to forage, breed, and have a shot at a flourishing life. How can you take one action in the new year to create a more biodiverse planet for not only yourself but the rest of life?