Oliver Komar, Ph.D.
Full Professor, Department of Environment and Development
Most people are surprised when they realize the many ways they depend on biodiversity, every day. And some people do not even know what biodiversity is. The big problem is that ignorance threatens biodiversity, and if that is lost, we harm ourselves, our children and all those who come after. One could devote a lifetime to the study and understanding of biodiversity, but I will try to explain the basics.
Biodiversity, or biological diversity, refers to all ecosystems on the planet, species diversity (flora and fauna), and genetic diversity within each species. Maintaining diverse ecosystems, diverse species and diverse genotypes within each species is essential for our long term survival. This biological diversity is essential for humans to adapt to any environmental change, which may include changes in climate, air quality, and soil quality.
Why soil? Because food production depends on soil. We depend on agriculture, and without healthy soils, which in other words are soils rich in worms and other forms of biodiversity, it will be difficult to grow maize, beans, vegetables and other crops yet to be discovered in the future. Where do crops come from? From biodiversity, of course. Even livestock depends on the soil. Without pasture and food crops grown for livestock, we could not have the abundance of cattle, poultry and other farm-produced animals that generate so many rich culinary dishes.
“Well,” you say, “it is obvious that we need to conserve certain plants used in agriculture, and perhaps the fauna and microfauna found in the soil.” But why should we care about the conservation of other species such as spiders, wasps, beetles, mice, bats, snakes, frugivorous birds (fruit-eating species) or granivorous birds (birds that eat grains and seeds)? There are several answers; most species provide services for man, and it is important to learn what those services are. It would be a grave mistake to consider those species as merely pests.
Most of these services are benefits that we do not even pay for. All species as a whole contribute to maintaining the ecological balance, which prevents the outbreak of pests. For example, the recent outbreak of pine bark beetle in Honduras was seen in forests dominated by a single species of tree, the ocote pine. In contrast, having diverse forests with many tree species will prevent pest outbreaks.
Wildife such as spiders, bats, snakes, and many birds consume huge quantities of insects and mice. Without the natural population control provided by healthy ecosystems, we would see more pest outbreaks. Pest outbreaks affect not only economies, but also our general sense of well-being and quality of life.
One of the most interesting services provided by biodiversity is the generation of attractions for tourism, ecotourism in particular. Central American countries are blessed with a great diversity of native species, such as the Jaguar, the Resplendent Quetzal, and the Scarlet Macaw. Thousands of people travel to Central America from North America and Europe every month just to see these natural wonders. Their visits generate substantial economic benefits.
Studies have estimated that biodiversity is directly responsible for 11% of the world economy. But in Costa Rica, a country that has invested heavily in the protection of its natural forests, ecotourism alone is the largest source of foreign exchange for the national economy. More than 1 million people visit Costa Rica each year to observe biodiversity, generating an important contribution to the Gross Domestic Product. And ecotourism is just one of many uses for biodiversity.
In fact, the benefits generated by biodiversity are many more than just ecotourism. I have not even mentioned the role of biodiversity in generating construction materials, new medicines, and all kinds of products that we use every day. Look around you for ways we use the natural diversity of ecosystems, and you will realize that biodiversity is an extremely important public good that we must manage and conserve for our sustainable development.ZAMORANO, aware of the essential need to educate about the importance of animal and plant species and how to protect them, offers the Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management classes through the Department of Environment and Development. This department also manages the ZAMORANO Biodiversity Center which contributes to the documentation of native species in order to focus not only on threatened species but also on safeguarding their habitats.