We always hear a lot about terms like conservation, biodiversity and ecosystems, we talk of the Serengeti ecosystem for example, or should we say the Selous ecosystem. We hear of the tropics having a high biodiversity, the reefs etc. We hear about poaching and global warming and conservation. What is all this? For many, all may be concepts we know or understand. Today I thought I would share with you in brief all these, just to recap our understanding and perhaps play a better role as part of it all.
Let us start with ecosystems. Simply, a dynamic complex of living things, here including plants, animals, insects and microorganisms and, non-living environments meaning air, water, and soil functioning as one interactive unit. So when we look at a forest, a wetland, an agricultural landscape or a mangrove forest, we are looking at an ecosystem. Every individual form of living thing in an area(non-living environment) plays a role in the survival of the other. A good example is a gazelle cannot survive without plants and without the gazelle predators including man can’t get protein, but again it’s the waste products from the gazelle and the predator that makes the soil fertile for a plant to grow. It can be very complex in other cases all depending on the scale one is looking at.
With the above concept, when we talk of living things we are really saying biodiversity. This means the variety of life on earth in all of its forms and considering all of its interactions.( E. O. Wilson. 1988). This includes not only species, but genus, communities and at the much bigger scale, ecosystems. All plants, mammals, insects, fish, sponges, corals and microorganisms such as bacteria. What are we saying with this?, biodiversity builds to an ecosystem, one can’t be without the other.
How do we benefit from all of this?. Looking at the two from a human perspective and not forgetting that we are a part of it all. It is actually essential to our survival. Ecosystems/ biodiversity provide us with goods and services we need to survive, whether direct or indirect. Think about how we get our food (honey, fruits, vegetables, meat), water, clothing etc, we also need good weather, defence against hazards, nutrient cycling etc. Barrier reefs prevent floods due to tidal changes or Tsunami, forests absorb approximately 218 gigatonnes of carbondioxide that we emit and in return gives us oxygen we need to breath. Without photosynthesis which again is facilitated by insects, animals etc, there is no life. We also however benefit cultural and aesthetic values from just the beauty and wanders, think Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti migration, great blue whales etc. It’s for sure one major reason we have the tourism industry.
By now I believe we are getting a lit bit of an idea where we stand in this we call natural world. Knowing the benefits we get and actually need for our survival and well-being, we come to the concept of conservation. Conservation can simply mean, preserving the natural world for future generations.
The human population is growing fast, and more so in the tropics where we obviously get high biodiversity per area. Regarding the many demands we require as humans, the natural worlds biodiversity is put to the test. Over utilization leading to habitat loss, or simply eradicating a species off the face of the planet. I am sure you have herd of the Dodo and of the West African Black Rhino, all gone extinct due to human demand. We have put many species like the wild dogs, the black rhino or the elephants at a high risk of becoming extinct. We forget that we are part of the whole process and if we do so for any longer the natural world will unbalance and may result to our own downfall.
What I am saying here is that we all have, or better yet are a role to play in saving these ecosystems that we know for sure are the basic infrastructure to our survival. Efforts are ongoing worldwide, we have about 15% of the world protected, Tanzania sits at about 25% of the country as protected, conventions(CITES) and other efforts like community based conservation where education and awareness is passed on to communities. It is a game that requires funds, and here is where tourism will play a part and make us all be able to play a role in saving our planet so that our children’s children will come and enjoy the same benefits.
I hope this has opened our thinking a little better on what ecosystems, biodiversity and conservation mean and how.