Biodiversity: “we are eroding our livelihood”

Biodiversity: 'we are eroding our livelihood'

According to some scientists, the decline in biodiversity hangs over our society like a "sword of damocles".

"Something is brewing," says katrin bohning-gaese, director of the senckenberg biodiversity and climate research center in frankfurt am main. The scientist has long studied the decline of biodiversity in germany and central europe. In view of the growing problem, the leopoldina national academy of sciences will also be addressing this topic at its annual meeting in 2021 on friday.

The decline in biodiversity can be easily tracked by long-term population trends, says bohning-gaese, who is a member of the leopoldina. Especially in the case of the birds, there is a comparatively good data basis. Among many other species, she sees particularly strong declines in the birds of the agricultural landscape.

"Here in germany and in central europe, the problem lies in the agricultural landscape, i.E. Meadows, pastures and fields," explains the scientist. The reasons are complex. For bohning-gaese, the overriding cause is that agriculture is geared toward pure productivity. "Produce as much as is somehow possible"."

The consequences include the use of pesticides such as glyphosate, high manure rates and a shift toward monocultures, which has led to the loss of hedges, trees and fallow land. The low plant diversity also has an effect on animals, such as birds, which lack breeding grounds and hiding places.

One of the "most dramatic results" of long-term studies was already published in 2017, he says. Burger scientists, together with statisticians, had observed "a decline of more than 75 percent in the biomass of flying insects" in 27 years. "That hit home at the time and showed that we have a massive problem in germany and in central europe with insect mortality."

The consequences of the lack of biodiversity are already visible, says bohning-gaese. Bestagers like bees were missing in the shallow end. This can be seen in the yield of fruit trees, which are fruiting less. Although farmers were then able to help with beehives, the decline in wild bees was still visible and had consequences for the pollination success of various plants.

According to bohning-gaese, the consequences of dwindling biodiversity are dramatic, even in the forest. Here the blatant consequences of a species-poor ecosystem became apparent. "We are seeing a massive die-off in monoculture forests, especially the drought-sensitive spruce."Forestry managers are "in despair" in the face of forest dieback.

"This may not sound that dramatic to a lot of people at first," says bohning-gaese. But the sum of the negative consequences build up slowly. "It’s like taking one mesh after the other out of a net that’s carrying us.

Eventually that will rub."One knows that there are such tipping points. Already you can see how low biodiversity as part of the cause is destroying the livelihoods of fishermen and farmers, for example, says bohning-gaese. "We city dwellers may not realize it at first, but the farmer and the fisherman are already feeling it."

With the loss of "the meshes" we will be in trouble, says scientist. "We are eroding our livelihoods right now."We have to preserve biodiversity so that future generations will still be able to get the services from nature. For this reason, agriculture has had to focus more on organic farming and the greening of conventional farming. Less crop protection, less manure. "But in addition we need an agricultural turnaround."

"We have to change our consumption behavior," emphasizes bohnig-gaese. Those who can afford it should pay attention to high-quality foods. And we need to eat less meat and more vegetables instead. It is not too late. You can still "get your act together" with many species, says the leopoldina scientist. "However, we have to start immediately and at the same time on different levels."

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