Amid urgent threats to planet’s biodiversity, scientists and citizens team up to locate species
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Around the world on May 22, citizens and scientists participated in an effort to document as many plants and animals as they could in a global Bioblitz on World Biodiversity day. The goal is to highlight the planet’s biodiversity even as it dwindles, and to raise awareness about the serious threats to the web of life that sustains us all.
And if you missed today’s events, never fear — there’s more BioBlitz action planned for the future, including an intensive 24-hour survey in the canyonlands of southeastern Colorado sponsored by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program. The hope is that the inventory will lead to a conservation plan for the area that takes into account existing ranch activities while implementing tools to conserve intact habitat for a wide range of species.
During last year’s BioBlitz in Yellowstone National Park, researchers documented 1,200 species, including several not known to exist in the park before the search. The finds included a microscopic worms, mushrooms, a bluish-green lichen, a slender grass and a colorful tiger beetle. Smaller species are often overlooked in wildlife brochures and TV documentaries, but often form the building blocks for ecosystems without the showcase species could never survive.
Wild Earth Guardians has also compiled an interesting list of North American species of concern at this website.
It’s tough to encapsulate in a few words what biodiversity is all about. Even the pre-eminent biologists who study the topic as the life-long work sometimes have trouble wrapping their brain around the concept, especially given the fact that we’ve only discovered about 10 percent of all the species on Earth. Only a tiny fraction of those has been studied beyond the cursory review and classification that leads to believe that we “know” a species.
On top of that, there’s an incredible amount of ignorance, some of it excusable, because — let’s face it — not everybody cares about science and biology. But there’s also willful ignorance, when we are faced with reality and refuse to acknowledge it. And worst of all, there are those who intentionally mislead others when it comes to scientific reality.
What comes to mind is a recent thread of comments on a letter in a local newspaper story relating to a proposals for new wilderness areas in Colorado.
Clearly, some of the people who commented knew better, yet they intentionally chose to add disinformation to the debate about habitat and biodiversity by suggesting that there’s no need for new wilderness, or to protect habitat in other ways, because “there are plenty of bighorn sheep roaming alongside I-70, and lots of moose hanging out in Summit County neighborhoods.
These are lies, and as such, they shouldn’t go unchallenged. Letting them stand unanswered is irresponsible and even cowardly journalism. And it makes the real challenge of addressing biodiversity issues even tougher. Fortunately, several other readers chimed with more realistic comments.
The global wave of species extinctions currently under way threatens human existence in ways we can’t even begin to understand. It’s time to get serious about protecting habitat on a global scale to try and preserve as many species as we can. At the same time, we have to put forth every effort to try and understand those species. Until we do, we’ll be “flying blind in the biosphere, as E. O. Wilson said.
Here’s just a bit more from Wilson, who has been leading the charge on biodiversity for decades:
“How can we fully understand the ecology of a pond or forest patch without knowledge of the thousands of species–indeed millions when bacteria are included–the principal channels of materials and energy flow? How can we anticipate and control the spread of new crop diseases and human diseases if we do not know what they might be, or the location of their endemic reservoirs, or the identity of the insect and other vectors that carry them? And, finally, and I mean finally in the literal sense, how can we save Earth’s life forms from extinction if we don’t even know what most of them are?”
Please visit Wilson’s website to learn more.
There are 330 species in the U.S. deserving of protection that have yet to be placed on the endangered species list. Click here for a complete overview of the U.S. endangered species program, including state by state breakdowns, is available here.
There are 75 animals on the Colorado endangered and threatened species list, including 19 birds, 23 fish, and 14 mammals. Get the full list here.
Click here for the global Red List of endangered and threatened species.