On Care for Our Common Home, Loss of Biodiversity

Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence. 

Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence

The following are quotes from Pope Francis interspersed with examples of just a few of the vulnerable creatures in our area:

32.  The earth’s resources are being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production. The loss of forests and woodlands entails the loss of species which may constitute extremely important resources in the future, not only for food but also for curing disease and other uses. Different species contain genes which could be key resources in years ahead for meeting human needs and regulating environmental problems.

Beyond being a resource, they have value in themselves.   Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence. We have no such right.

The rusty patched bumble bee was once common in the Eastern U.S.  Its habitat has decreased ~87% in recent years. xerces,org

The rusty patched bumble bee was once common in the Eastern U.S.  Its habitat has decreased ~87% in recent years. xerces,org

The Puritan Tiger Beetle is found only along the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and the Connecticut River in New England. They have been listed as endangered since 1990.  (www.fws.gov)

The Puritan Tiger Beetle is found only along the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and the Connecticut River in New England. They have been listed as endangered since 1990.  (www.fws.gov)

Rare in the 11 states which list it as endangered or threatened including Maryland. Xerces.org

Rare in the 11 states which list it as endangered or threatened including Maryland. Xerces.org

It may well disturb us to learn of the extinction of mammals or birds, since they are more visible. But the good functioning of ecosystems also requires fungi, algae, worms, insects, reptiles and an innumerable variety of microorganisms. Some less numerous species, although generally unseen, nonetheless play a critical role in maintaining the equilibrium of a particular place.

The eastern gopher tortoises have been reduced to small, isolated populations. They build elaborate burrows that provide habitat for 360+ other species.  www.fws.gov

The eastern gopher tortoises have been reduced to small, isolated populations. They build elaborate burrows that provide habitat for 360+ other species.  www.fws.gov

Once common in the Midwest and Northeast, the yellow-throated turtle populations are now found only in Minnesota and Nebraska. www.fws.gov

Once common in the Midwest and Northeast, the yellow-throated turtle populations are now found only in Minnesota and Nebraska. www.fws.gov

Human beings must intervene when a geosystem reaches a critical state. But nowadays, such intervention in nature has become more and more frequent. As a consequence, serious problems arise, leading to further interventions; human activity becomes ubiquitous, with all the risks which this entails. Often a vicious circle results, as human intervention to resolve a problem further aggravates the situation. For example, many birds and insects which disappear due to synthetic agrotoxins are helpful for agriculture: their disappearance will be compensated for by yet other techniques which may prove harmful.

The American Bee Journal reports on the latest study showing a link between honeybee deaths and widely used neonicotinoids.  The precise mechanism for harm has been found.   ABJ Extra-June 27, 2016 - Neonicotinoid Pesticides Cause Harm to Honeybees

The American Bee Journal reports on the latest study showing a link between honeybee deaths and widely used neonicotinoids.  The precise mechanism for harm has been found.   ABJ Extra-June 27, 2016 - Neonicotinoid Pesticides Cause Harm to Honeybees

A sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves.

Black-throated blue warbler found in large tracts of woods in the Eastern U.S. is losing its habitat.  A bird of conservation concern - audubon.org.  Photo: Kenneth Cole Schneider

Black-throated blue warbler found in large tracts of woods in the Eastern U.S. is losing its habitat.  A bird of conservation concern - audubon.org.  Photo: Kenneth Cole Schneider

In assessing the environmental impact of any project, concern is usually shown for its effects on soil, water and air, yet few careful studies are made of its impact on biodiversity, as if the loss of species or animals and plant groups were of little importance. Highways, new plantations, the fencing-off of certain areas, the damming of water sources, and similar developments, crowd out natural habitats and, at times, break them up in such a way that animal populations can no longer migrate or roam freely. As a result, some species face extinction. Alternatives exist which at least lessen the impact of these projects, like the creation of biological corridors, but few countries demonstrate such concern and foresight. Frequently, when certain species are exploited commercially, little attention is paid to studying their reproductive patterns in order to prevent their depletion and the consequent imbalance of the ecosystem.

Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness. Damage caused by selfish lack of concern is much greater than economic benefits obtained. Where certain species are destroyed or seriously harmed, the values involved are incalculable. 

The Peaks of Otter salamander lives on a 12-mile stretch of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. These dark, five-inch-long salamanders have one of the most restricted ranges of any U.S. salamander.  They never move more than a few feet from underground retreats located in mature oak and maple forests.  Vulnerable to habitat loss and climate change.  www.dgif.virginia.gov  Photo:  Paul Sattler

The Peaks of Otter salamander lives on a 12-mile stretch of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. These dark, five-inch-long salamanders have one of the most restricted ranges of any U.S. salamander.  They never move more than a few feet from underground retreats located in mature oak and maple forests.  Vulnerable to habitat loss and climate change.  www.dgif.virginia.gov  Photo:  Paul Sattler

Image:  IUCN.org  Source of international information on biodiversity

Image:  IUCN.org  Source of international information on biodiversity