What is biodiversity and why is it important to us?
All living things have evolved on the Earth as a result of millions of years of adaptation to climatic conditions and biological interactions with other species. These forces have shaped today’s natural ecosystems and habitats. The United States has anincredible array of wild natural habitats comprised of diverse groups of native species adapted to particular regional conditions. These species comprise our native biodiversity. Many of our parks, nature preserves and wildlife refuges provide some of the best examples of these living communities of different species.
Healthy ecosystems are essential for maintaining native wildlife populations and the native plants that provide the food and shelter they require to survive. As global travel and trade have expanded, humans have either purposefully or accidently, transported non-native species to areas they would not likely have been able toreach by natural means e.g., wind, water or wildlife. Some of these exotic species escaped from plantings and are able to reproduce on their own becoming weedy or ‘invasive.’ As these non-native species establish and spread they are replacing native plants and altering
natural habitats, often with disastrous consequences for the locally adapted plants and animals. Native habitats are being damaged, degraded and sometimes completely destroyed as a result of invasion by non-native exotic species.
Maintaining healthy wild ecosystems is vital for human survival and quality of life. Healthy ecosystems help provide clean air and water, and reduce loss of vital soil resources to erosion. Wild areas are great places for us to enjoy, relax and recreate. Restoring ecosystems compromised by non-native species offers some hope for the future but the effort to do so will require determination and a large, long-term commitment of resources and labor.
Patches of disturbed land including small woodlots, landscaped areas and backyards can sustain native wildlife, if designed, managed and maintained properly.