Importance of Biodiversity
THE IMPORTANCE OF BIODIVERSITY
By Dr. Angel C. Alcala, Professor Emeritus and National Scientist
(Excerpts from a talk by National Scientist Angel C. Alcala at the Seminar-Workshop on Biodiversity Reporting 101 held at Silliman University and sponsored by ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, US Embassy Manila, and Silliman University REnews)
The word “biodiversity” is a contraction of biological diversity which means the “totality of animal, plant, and microbial species in a specific natural environment.”
Biodiversity plays a very important role in the lives of people all over the world, serving as a source of food, medicines and many other materials needed to sustain human life.
Today biodiversity studies may be approached from several levels, namely, gene, species, population, natural community, ecosystem or from a combination of two or more levels.
Why is biodiversity an attractive area for scientific studies? The Philippines is an archipelago in the tropics. Its geological history is complex, having been subjected to rise and fall of the land and sea levels, volcanic eruptions, climate change in the past, etc. Plant and animal species have evolved and some have become extinct over time, while others have survived to the present. These past events have resulted in the rich biodiversity that we see today.
The country is part of the Coral Triangle together with 5 other nations. A common research program called the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) is on-going that is partly aimed for the conservation of the rich biodiversity, especially coral reef resources, mangroves, seagrass beds, and tropical rainforests.
These resources support the lives and livelihoods of several millions of people who are heavily dependent on these resources. But it appears the overexploitation and the recent natural phenomenon, commonly referred to as climate change, constitute the threats to survival of these ecosystems.
Among the marine species, fish species numbering 2,500-3,000 species, a substantial number of which are found in coral reefs, seem to be a primary focus for a good reason –– fish forms the greater bulk of our protein diet –– although it should be understood that our marine waters abound in fish primarily because of the myriads of other marine organisms that support them through the food chain and other ecological factors.
There are many other marine species that have made essential contributions to the needs of humankind. In a recent NAST (National Academy of Science and Technology) conference, a biochemist pointed out the need for discovering antibiotics to add or replace existing ones that have become less effective as a result of the resistance to antibiotics of certain bacteria causing human diseases.
One recent response is to look for organisms in ocean sediments that show promise against human diseases, and some new discoveries have recently been reported.
A few species of cone shells produce poisonous substances that could kill fish and humans. But some peptide fragments of the protein poisons have powerful pain-killing properties so useful in alleviating pain. Many other marine species of sponges, molluscs produce chemicals useful against human disease such as cancer, and an active search for these chemicals is going on at this time.
At the ecosystem level, it is common knowledge that mangroves and coral reefs moderate storm surges in addition to their important role in the provision of food for our people. On land, plants through their long evolution have elaborate many chemicals now exploited for their active principles many of which have medicinal properties. There are already a number of medicinal preparations from Philippine plants that are available for human use.#