Biodiversity is Life and Extinction is Accelerating

Biodiversity is Life and Extinction is Accelerating

Biodiversity is life. Extinction is accelerating. We need to save as many life forms as possible.

Biodiversity is the amazing living web of all organisms on the planet. It includes plants, mammals, fish, invertebrates, reptiles, and fungi microbes as they interact with each other, air, water, and the land.

Healthy ecosystems require a vast assortment of life with multiple interdependencies. If one or more species is removed from this environment, no longer serving its niche, it can cause cascading harm to the ecosystem. Even the littlest life forms are essential. Food, shelter, and raising young are the major connections that tie species together. Insects prey on plants, birds prey on insects, and birds eat fruit and spread seeds that promote the growth of plants. Fungi, invertebrates, and microorganisms break down organic matter, converting it into the simplest forms of micro/macronutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Plants feed on this decomposed organic matter. Animals and insects feed and shelter in plants. Plants shelter in CO2 and emit oxygen. This is a simple description of the web of life. In reality, it is complex and not well understood.  

At least 60% of species remain unknown or unnamed, and even less have been deeply studied. So it should come as no surprise that we don’t understand all the intricate connections of the ecosystems. We don’t even notice that we drive one species to extinction, and we have erased the relationships with other species. We rarely understand the consequences.

The cycle of life is regenerating if we give it the care and space it needs. We are also creatures of nature. Biodiversity affects our food supply, our medicine, and our well-being. The living world took 3.8 billion years of evolution. When we harm the cycle of life, we lose much that cannot be replaced. Biodiversity is the lifeblood of our planet.  

Today we are facing accelerated species extinction around the world.

We are seeing extinctions of plants, birds, fish, mammals, invertebrates, and reptiles at higher rates. In 2021 the ivory-billed woodpecker was one of 22 species of birds, fish, mussels, bats, and one species of plant that were declared extinct during 2021 in the US. 

Of the species being evaluated (only a part of the total population), the table shows extinction percentages from 12% to over 50%. Extinction is on the rise and when each species dies it erases its web of connections weakening the ecosystem with a cascading effect. Coral reefs are the life centers of the ocean. Already, 19% of the world’s coral reefs are dead, 75% of the coral reef is threatened, 25% of all marine life depends on coral reefs, and 500M people depend on coral reefs for food, income, and coastal protection.

The type of ecosystem zone has a major impact on biodiversity.

There is a big difference between the biological richness and geographical range of a species. In tropical environments, the biodiversity is much richer in the number of species. At the same time, they are more vulnerable. “ For example, you can expect to find about fifty species of ants in a square kilometer in New England temperate forest… but up to ten times that number in a comparable area of the rain forest in Ecuador or Borneo.” A large number of species in North America are living across the continent. In South America species occupy smaller ranges, sustain smaller populations, and due to competition are more special in where they live and eat. Hence, the damage of clear-cutting a tropical forest will create a larger impact on biodiversity.  

Biodiversity loss happens fastest in tropical forests, coral reefs, and rivers and streams in both tropical and temperate regions. The primary reasons for vanishing biodiversity are habitat destruction, invasive species, use of pesticides, over-harvesting/hunting, and climate change. Let’s explore them a bit more. 

Habitat Destruction

The relationship between the size of the habitat area and the number of species is known and has been for years. If 90% of a habitat area is removed, the number of species that can persist sustainably will be about half. Of the remaining habitat if another 1% is removed the species collapses and disappears. Unfortunately, this is the state of many habitats around the world. As people have settled around the world, we have damaged habitats in our wake. We have used and fragmented habitats to the extent that many species are not surviving.  

Invasive Species

Invasive species come from another part of the world where they are adapted to their native niche. In their native ecosystem, they interact within the web of life as predators, prey, and competitors keep their populations in balance. Once an invasive species is unleashed in a new habitat it can destroy the existing ecosystem. In early 1900 the eastern part of North America was home to over 3 -4 million American Chestnut trees. These beautiful and bountiful trees grew to 100 feet tall and 9 feet around. In 1904 they were devastated by the chestnut blight, a fungal disease that came from Chinese chestnut trees that were introduced. The American Chestnut tree was virtually extinct in 50 years. Seven moth species whose caterpillars depended on it vanished and the last of the carrier pigeons plummeted to extinction. What other species were impacted by this event? We will never know. 

Use of Pesticides

Pesticides are used in agriculture to improve crop yield. This tide of chemicals has produced bigger crops to feed many. At the same time, it has had unintended consequences for nature and humans. For example, Edward O. Wilson shared that “ By 2014, there was an 81% decline in Monaco butterflies in the United States midwest population, attributed to a 58% decline in milkweeds, the exclusive food plant of the monarch caterpillars. Milkweed was reduced because of increased weed killer in corn and soybean fields. The crops were genetically modified to resist the weed-killer, while the milkweed was not protected. Migrating monarch butterflies in the US and Mexico declined steeply.” *1. We are seeing a movement to better forms of agriculture moving away from mono-crops and heavy pesticides.  

Over Harvesting/Hunting

Marine waters have suffered from over-harvesting resulting in a reduced number of members of a species to the extent that they can no longer reproduce and survive. The number of larger food and sports species – tuna, swordfish, sharks, and larger round fish (cod, halibut, flounder, red snapper) has fallen by 90% since 1950. Cod was so abundant at the time of the pilgrims; now 99% is essentially gone.

Climate Change

Climate changes are already affecting biodiversity from changing growing systems, fires, flooding, and more. The warming of the Arctic has dramatically reduced the snow and ice covers that provide denying and foraging habitats for polar bears. As the entire ecosystem cannot pick up and move, we need to reduce our footprints and our impact on the climate to protect biodiversity. 

All of these factors interact to create the rapid extinction that species are experiencing. We are at a tipping point, where without corrective action we will see collapses and disappearances of species. These losses will not be recoverable. 

We need to save as many life forms as possible

The pathway forward to becoming the guardians to care for and restore nature is to support biodiversity. Let’s navigate this moment in time to save as many species as possible. 

Edward O. Wilson suggested the Half-Earth solution. Increase the wild area (untouched by humans) to 50% of the planet. While we figure out lots of other ways to reduce our footprint and care for nature, we can give it space to thrive. “If biodiversity is given space & security, most of the large fraction of species now endangered will regain suitability on their own.” #1  

Habitats protected by governments and agencies already account for 15% of Earth’s land area and it increases a little each year. Let’s accelerate the increase of protected habitats.

Actions That Make a Difference
  • Go Native In Your Backyard – Transform your backyard or patio to green your town or city with native plants to help restore habitat for local wildlife and the ecological balance. The book by the National Wildlife Federation (an OPL Recommended Read) Attracting Birds, Butterflies, and Other Backyard Wildlife by David Mizejewsk is a great guide to help you get started. (Link to our book blog)
  • Support Organizations Protecting Biodiversity – Support organizations working to increase protected and restored wild habitats. There are concerned people around the world working too hard to save as much as we can. See our list of organizations focused on protecting and restoring biodiversity. See our OPL Insight, “Protected Land by State.”
  • Increase WildLife Crossings – Support creating more special-purpose natural wildlife Bridgets to reconnect natural habitats. See our blog “You’ll Be Amazed By These Wildlife Bridges” and our insight “Wildlife Crossings Around the World”
  • Protect and Restore Waterways – Join a beach, stream, or wetland clean-up day. When visiting nature, leave no trace. 
  • Avoid Pesticides – Buy/eat food from organic and local farmers. Don’t use pesticides in your yard, transform it into a native backyard. 
  • Sustainable Fish – buy and eat sustainable fish to avoid over-harvested seafood. 
  • Reduce your Footprint – Leverage our app to make and track joyful changes that reduce your impact on the planet. 

You can be a caretaker of this wonderful planet. Find ways to care for and expand wild places, restore nature even in your own yard or patio, and reduce your footprint. When opening the door to living green with love and respect for all the planet, we can’t help but take action to save as much as possible of this living planet. 

#1 Half-Earth, Our planet’s Fight for Life by Edward O. Willson 

#2 Attracting Birds, Butterflies, and Other Backyard Wildlife by David Mezejewski

Organizations Focused on Biodiversity

Easy to Make Seed Crackers

Easy to Make Seed Crackers

Crackers are so easy to make, there are so many variations and recipes.  This is a great recipe and with decorative cookie cutters, they make a beautiful presentation on your charcuterie boards and pair nicely with homemade soup.  

Servings: Makes about 30 crackers

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup spelt flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons celery seeds
  • 1 & 1/2 tablespoons fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted chilled butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup iced water
Seed Cracker Dough
Instructions:
  1. Place all-purpose whole wheat and Spelt flours, baking powder, salt, and black pepper in a medium-size bowl and stir till well combined. 
  2. With two knives or a pastry cutter, cut the small cubes of butter into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles small breadcrumbs. (You can do this in a food processor and remove the mixture to a bowl to continue the process below). Mix in the seeds.
  3. Add iced water to the dry ingredients and form the dough into a small ball (depending upon humidity, you may need to add a tablespoon or two of water to the mix). Cut the dough in half and wrap it in waxed paper or sustainable food wraps. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  4. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  
  5. Remove one ball of dough from the refrigerator, and knead till soft on a lightly floured Silpat, plastic, or wooden pastry mat. Roll the dough out to about 1/8 inch thick. Cut into shapes using lightly floured cookie cutters. Place them on one of the prepared baking sheets. Complete this process with the other half of the refrigerated dough ball. With gathered-up dough scraps, roll out again, cutting out more crackers until all the dough is used up.
  6. Refrigerate both sheets of crackers for 30 minutes.
  7. Use a fork to press holes in the center of each cracker to allow steam to escape from the dough while baking.
  8. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Crackers should be golden brown and crispy. Let crackers cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire cooling rack to complete cooling before storing in an airtight container.  

Note: I repurpose our Holiday cookie tins throughout the year for crackers, cookies, and other baked goods that require airtightness to retain freshness.

Try these delicious crackers with our homemade Cream of Asparagus soup.

    Chef Yvonne Dwyer

    Recipe compliments of OPL Naturalist and Home Chef Yvonne Dwyer

    OPL Plant-rich Recipes

    Eating more fruits and vegetables is good for you and the planet.  Find more delicious OPL-recommended plant-rich recipes here.

    Cream of Asparagus Soup

    Cream of Asparagus Soup

    This asparagus soup recipe is delicious and warms the soul when the early springtime weather can be so finicky between rain, snow, wind, and sunshine.

    Servings: Makes 4 servings

    Ingredients:
    • 1 pound of fresh asparagus*
    • 1 large yellow onion, diced finely
    • 2 tablespoons butter or butter-flavored olive oil
    • 2 tablespoons flour, arrowroot, or cornstarch
    • 2 cups chicken broth
    • 2 cups vegetable broth
    • 1/2 cup whipping cream, or cream of your choice
    • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    Asparagus
    Instructions:
    1. Carefully wash asparagus making sure that all soil particles have been removed.  Remove and discard the “woody” part of the asparagus stem by holding the spear horizontally and snapping the bottom where the spear starts to droop.  It should snap easily by hand.  Cut the asparagus into two-inch lengths.  
    2. Sauté onion in hot butter on medium-high heat for three minutes until softened.
    3. Stir flour into onion-butter mixture stirring constantly for even cooking.  Slowly add the chicken and vegetable broth while whisking until smooth.
    4. Add asparagus.  Bring to a soft boil, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
    5. With an immersion blender, puree until smooth while in the saucepan.  (You can also put the soup in a blender, use precaution when blending hot soup) 
    6. Strain soup into a clean saucepan.  Add cream of your choice, (I used half and a half), and heat until hot.  
    7. Add 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste.

    Suggestion: Serve this soup with our easy-to-make homemade seed crackers. So good!

    Chef Yvonne Dwyer

    Recipe compliments of OPL Naturalist and Home Chef Yvonne Dwyer

    OPL Plant-rich Recipes

    Eating more fruits and vegetables is good for you and the planet.  Find more delicious OPL-recommended plant-rich recipes here.

    Spotlight on McConnells’ Farm and Market in Southwestern PA

    Spotlight on McConnells’ Farm and Market in Southwestern PA

    McConnells’ Farm and Market, located in the Aliquippa area, is one of several CSAs in southwestern Pennsylvania. It’s one of our favorites. According to Calvin McConnell, the history of this family’s multi-generational and sustainable 180-acre farm goes back as far as 1787 by word and the early 1800s by a paper trail. McConnells’ Farm and Market has participated in the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model for the last eight years. The CSA model provides much-needed committed funds to the local farm and delivery of high-quality fresh farm produce for CSA participants.

    The McConnells family was gracious in sharing their story of family farming with One Planet Life. The family appreciates their CSA members (75% are repeating yearly members), their seasonal clientele, and the land where they grow their food. Their peaches are the best that we have ever tasted, and the fruit has been their specialty since the 1930s. Various fruit trees, vegetable produce, and beautiful sunflowers and hollyhocks are grown on nearly 50 acres.

    Old McConnells Farm

    According to McConnell, the farm is not certified organic; however, their growing practices range from non-certified organic to integrated pest management (IPM). IPM is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on common-sense practices.

    The McConnells are involved in every stage of crop production. Their home is on the farm; they drink the well and spring water and consume what they grow. This makes them highly aware and conscientious of safety precautions for their family and clientele. The farmers rely on crop rotation, planting ground covers to regenerate soil naturally rather than depleting it, drip irrigation, hand picking in place of herbicides, as well other techniques associated with sustainability.

    McConnellsFarm Barn

    Several years ago, they built a barn, adding much-needed space to showcase the variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers grown on the farm. A large CSA chalkboard informs customers what is available and defines mandatory and value-added items weekly. Local artisan products such as soap, candles, pottery, and canned goods are also available for sale, along with canning supplies and canned goods. 

    McConnells Market is a wonderful experience with an authentic country mercantile atmosphere.

    McConnells’ CSA season begins in July and ends in November. Two plans are available to 180 members; a weekly Plan A and bi-weekly Plan B. Members also receive a discount on other farm produce and items for sale in the Market. To learn more, please visit their website.

    McConnells Market

    To learn more about CSAs, read our blog, Community Supported Agriculture A Win For Farmers and Families.

    To find a CSA in your State, please explore our OPL INSIGHT: CSA Farms By State Map.

    Community Supported Agriculture A Win For Farmers and Families

    Community Supported Agriculture A Win For Farmers and Families

    Community-supported agriculture (CSA) is a growing, mutually-beneficial partnership between local farmers and their community. Small farmers secure essential income at the beginning of the growing season, and people in the seasonal shares get weekly or bi-weekly access to fresh, local produce throughout the growing season. CSA provides farmers financial security, and community members get good quality food from local farmers.

    There are roughly 4,000 CSA programs across the United States.

    Most of the CSA shares supply a 3-5 person household. During the approximately 15-30 week season, each CSA box contains a variety of fresh food depending upon the harvest. A weekly selection can include fresh produce, eggs, dairy products, and whole grains. Each weekly box provides a new opportunity to explore new recipes and new ingredients. If you find that your share offers more than you can eat, share it with friends, freeze, pickle, or can your fresh produce. Now is the time of year to sign up for a weekly or bi-weekly subscription.

    Some CSAs offer a self-pick operation.

    A selected area of blueberries, apples, peaches, pumpkins, cucumbers, grapes, and other produce and flowers is available for members to pick on certain days. Members are always the first to receive the best selection before opening up to sell to the general public.

    Picking up your weekly CSA share is fun and educational for the whole family,

    Children can gain an understanding of where and how the food they are eating is grown. They also become appreciative of how fresh local grown produce tastes.  Now is the time of year to sign up for a weekly or bi-weekly subscription.

    To find a CSA near you, explore our interactive map.
    OPL Insight Map CSA Farms
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