As we kick off the first day of the week leading up to the International Day for Biological Diversity on Friday, let’s take a look at what it is and why it matters. The short version is that it’s a day the United Nations declared for increasing understanding and awareness of biological diversity issues…these affect all of us in lots of ways.
Why should we care?
What’s the big deal with biological diversity (aka biodiversity) and why should we care? According to one of my favorite conservation biologists, Richard Primack, biodiversity is “the complete range of species, biological communities, and their ecosystem interactions and genetic variation within species.” So…what does that mean? What we’re talking about with all of that is every species of microorganism, plant, animal, fungus, etc. on the planet, how they live together, and what their relationships are with one another. It’s also about the variation or range of differences across individuals of a species (e.g., take a look at dogs and the incredible diversity of physical features, even within a single breed—if you didn’t know, all dogs, no matter their breed, are the same species!—you can sit two basset hounds next to each other and point out all kinds of differences between them, even though they are incredibly similar, not to mention a basset hound next to a Great Dane…that list could do on forever!).
You might be thinking “All that diversity is cool, but why does it matter?” And, that’s the most important part of all of this. The aim of the Convention on Biological Diversity (more on that later) and IDB isn’t just to preserve the cool variety of life on Earth, it’s about people and how our needs are met by protecting biodiversity: food security, medicine, a clean and healthy environment to live in, housing, clean air, clean water, and all of the inherent benefits humans receive by simply engaging with nature and the diversity of life around us. If it weren’t for biodiversity, we wouldn’t be here, so it’s the goal of The Convention and IDB to raise awareness and increase understanding of biodiversity issues.
What’s up with biodiversity in Minnesota?
You already know we live in a magical place. Minnesota houses the convergence of four of North America’s biomes. Biomes are naturally occuring communities of plants and animals, and they are big. In Minnesota, the four biomes we find are the Deciduous Forest, running as a vertical band from southeast to northwest; the Coniferous Forest, covering the northeast; the Prairies & Savannas across the southwest and west; and the Tallgrass Aspen Parklands at the top of the Deciduous Forest band. As you might imagine, having four different big categories of habitats gives the state a massive amount of biodiversity!
We’re fortunate to have something called the Minnesota Biological Survey (a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources program), and yes, you guessed it: its purpose is to collect, interpret, monitor, and provide data on the state’s ecology and how its plants and animals are distributed. The story of the Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS) goes back a bit further than you might imagine.
As far back as 1872, the state legislature entrusted the University of Minnesota with documenting the state’s geology and native plants and animals. While this natural history survey wasn’t what we would deem complete by today’s standards, it still gives us a really good idea of what the Minnesota landscape looked like almost 150 years ago. But there are records of state biodiversity that go back even further than 1872. Indigenous people have lived here for thousands of years and hold a wealth of knowledge about Minnesota’s habitats, plants, animals, and so much more. The Bell Museum rests on the traditional and treaty land of the Dakota people, called Mnisóta Makhóčhe (the land of Minnesota) in the Dakota language. Indigenous people’s traditional ways of knowing capture histories, relationships, and ecological expertise. These are important forms of expertise to consult when we want to understand the natural history of an area.
Many of our ecosystems have been devastatingly altered by population growth, development, and agriculture over the past decades. In 1987, the DNR began the Minnesota County Biological Survey (what we know today as MBS) which was established to pick up where the natural history survey from 1872 left off.
So far, the MBS has categorized 590 species as of special concern, threatened, or endangered, with examples including our endangered state bee, the rusty patched bumble bee, the threatened Blanding’s turtle, and the of special concern small white lady’s slipper. (You can see a full list of these species here: files.dnr.state.mn.us/natural_resources/ets/endlist.pdf) And, it’s efforts like MBS that often lead to the discovery of rare and formerly unknown (to us) species like our tiny four-toed salamander which was first discovered in Itasca County in 1994.
The bigger picture painted by MBS data is, in a word, sobering. In the last 150 years, we have lost a tremendous amount of precious Minnesota habitat: 40% of our forests, 50% of our wetlands, and 98% of our prairies. What’s the leading cause? Development and agriculture.
Fortunately, our natural ecosystems that remain are teeming with biodiversity, giving them one of their most crucial and defining characteristics: resilience. These habitats support wildlife by providing shelter and food, and support the broader environment by storing floodwater, filtering our water supply, and supporting healthy soils. When all of these things, among others, are in good order, our state is healthy, which means we are healthy. As Minnesotans, we treasure the beauty of our state’s natural spaces. They provide us with peace and respite, are restorative and reflective, and foster a deep sense of place and belonging.
So, what can we do, and how do we protect what’s left?
As we all know, Minnesotans love Minnesota, so numerous efforts are already well under way to protect and restore our state’s natural places and species. To get started, you can learn about a number of resources and projects to participate in through the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources: bwsr.state.mn.us
You can also do all kinds of simple things at home: avoid using pesticides and herbicides, clean up after your pets when you go on walks, reduce the amount of single-use plastics you use, shop locally, recycle responsibly (check the number on your container and make sure your area recycling center can take it)…the list goes on. When we all do even one small thing, it adds up to a lot of small things, which makes a big difference.
If you want to learn more about the global state of biodiversity and what some of the ongoing efforts are, the UN has you covered! Today, the Convention on Biological Diversity is releasing their 5th edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO), a periodic report on biological diversity which summarizes the status of biodiversity and analyzes what the global community is doing to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity. You can find a digital copy of GBO5 and the four previous editions here: cbd.int/gbo
You can also learn more about nature-based solutions here: naturebasedsolutionsinitiative.org/what-are-nature-based-solutions
Which all leads us back to the International Day for Biological Diversity! This year’s theme is “Our solutions are in nature.”
This theme “emphasizes hope, solidarity, and the importance of working together at all levels to build a future of life in harmony with nature.” If you look at the IDB 2020 logo below, you’ll notice that each of the smaller squares is connected to the other, like a puzzle piece, symbolizing our interconnectedness, the holistic nature of solutions, and working together to find them.
Over the course of this week, we will be introducing you to a handful of ways you can think about and participate in preserving biodiversity and supporting the sustainable use of its resources.
A little history
Wondering where the UN comes in? International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) has been around since the early 1990s. (And, in case you were wondering, the UN has been around since June of 1945—almost 75 years!) In December of 1993, the Second Committee (they deal with global finance and economic issues) of the United Nations General Assembly (they’re made up of all the member state delegates who do the main deliberation) designated December 29th as The International Day for Biological Diversity—this was the day it was entered into the Convention for Biological Diversity. However, in 2000, the General Assembly moved the observance date to 22 May, in commemoration of the date that the Convention on Biological Diversity was initially adopted back in 1992.
What’s this Convention on Biological Diversity?
In a nutshell, its purpose is to develop international strategies for supporting the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. Ultimately, the Convention is a treaty, recognizing through international law that the conservation of biodiversity is “a common concern of humankind” and is an essential component of the development process. It was created as a tool for implementing the principles of something known as Agenda 21. Agenda 21 is a sustainable development action plan developed by the UN, which they had hoped to achieve by the year 2021, thus the name Agenda 21. It has become clear that the target date of 2021 was overly optimistic and this goal has been modified into the new version titled Agenda 2030 which incorporates the Sustainable Development Goals (learn more about these goals at sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs) written in 2015. The Convention on Biological Diversity was initially signed in by 150 government leaders at the UN Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992, and that number has increased to 196 countries—that’s nearly universal!
Now that you know a bit more about the importance of biodiversity and why IDB exists, let’s “bend the curve” on biodiversity loss together for the benefit of all life on Earth!
Follow us on Facebook tomorrow to learn more about how you can get involved in the Conservation of Biodiversity. On Wednesday, we’ll take a look at the connection between biodiversity and our Health and Food. Thursday, we’ll dive into biodiversity and its connection to People and Culture. And, finally, on Friday, we’ll help you get more involved in taking Action for Biodiversity, even from the comfort and safety of your own home or neighborhood!