Issues Magazine

Articles about Biodiversity

Livestock Diversity Needs Gene Banks

By Carlos Seré

Livestock gene banks are needed to ensure the world’s future food supply.

The genetic diversity of livestock is threatened worldwide, but especially in the global south, where the vast majority of farm animal breeds reside.

Documenting and conserving this diversity of cattle, goats, sheep, swine and poultry is just as essential as the maintenance of crop diversity for ensuring future food supplies in the face of health and environmental threats.

GM and Biodiversity: Partners in Conservation and Productivity?

By T.J. Higgins

Over the next 40 years there will be marked increases in agricultural inputs, and an additional one billion hectares of wild land will be appropriated for crops and pastures.

The editorial in Nature on 29 July 2010 was very upbeat about feeding the projected nine billion people in 2050 on the one hand but raised a very sobering question on the other. Even the sobering question raised the prospect that the “cost to the planet” could be saved by technology, both low and high forms.

Not too many people are as sanguine as the Editor of Nature. Many people would subscribe to a more complex set of conditions to be met if we are to feed and clothe the future billions of human bodies. At the very least we will need:

A reprieve, but the Great Barrier Reef remains on death row

By Tim Stephens

The World Heritage Committee in Cambodia will consider listing the Great Barrier Reef as "in danger" in 2014 if steps aren't taken to address key threats from industrialisation.

The Great Barrier Reef may have been spared the indignity of being listed as a World Heritage Area “in danger” in June 2013, but the Reef’s woes are just beginning.

Biodiversity Back on the Menu: Will Traditional Crops Return to the Dinner Table?

By Michael Hermann and Nick Pasiecznik

Healthy diets, like healthy ecosystems and economies, depend on diversity. Despite calls for more diversity in food and underlying crop systems, the world has witnessed research and development focusing almost exclusively on a handful of crops. Much more needs to be done to turn rhetoric into reality.

Half of all the calories consumed by the world’s human population today originate from only three plants – rice, wheat and maize – which are eaten directly or fed to livestock. The top 15 “commodity” crops provide nine-tenths of humanity’s calorie intake, while there are more than 10,000 edible plant species.

Waterbirds at Risk at Bundala RAMSAR Site

By Maria Grazia Bellio and Richard Kingsford

Irrigation projects upstream have left some wetlands high and dry while others are flooded, with consequences for the waterbirds that depend on them.

Waterbirds are wetland-dependent birds, and a key component of wetlands. Sadly, waterbird populations around the world have declined dramatically in recent decades, with degradation and alteration of wetland habitat occurring as a result of agricultural expansion and development activities, particularly in Asia.

Fish Diversity and Migration in the Mekong River

By Chris Barlow and Lee Baumgartner

The diverse fish fauna of the Mekong provides food, employment and income for millions of people, but its sustainability is threatened by barriers that block fish migration. Fishways on low-level weirs can help to maintain the resource and improve the yield of fisheries.

The Mekong River is the world’s tenth-longest river, extending 4900 kilometres from the Tibetan Plateau in China to its mouth in southern Vietnam. Its physical diversity, tropical location and high productivity fostered the evolution of a diverse fish community comprised of an exceptionally large number of taxonomic families: the Mekong fish database lists a total of 87 families, with 65 being documented in Cambodia and 50 in Lao PDR. Species numbers are about 850 freshwater fishes and as many as 1100 indigenous species if coastal and marine species are considered.

Of Pandas and Peas

By Cary Fowler

They may lack the charisma of megafauna, but plants are the objects of stronger connections with people. Can they cope with climate change?

It was an inauspicious beginning. Days after the international community failed to establish legally binding measures to halt climate change, the United Nations launched the International Year of Biodiversity. Scientists predict that climate change will directly imperil one-quarter of the Earth’s species.

Unleashing the Potential of Wild Fruits

By Kate Langford

Bringing superior varieties of fruit trees out of the forest and domesticating them to be grown on farms and in gardens is increasing biodiversity and generating income for farmers in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Australia.

In 1999 Christophe Missé, a farmer in Cameroon, attended a training session held by the World Agroforestry Centre in Nkolfep, Cameroon, that changed his life. He learnt techniques for developing superior varieties of indigenous fruit trees, and now runs a nursery with his neighbours, selling over 7000 trees a year. He has also planted hundreds of indigenous fruit trees on his farm.

“With the money I’ve made I’ve built a new house,” he says proudly, “and I can now pay for two of my children to go to private school”.

Australian Plant Genetic Resource Collections and Global Food Security

By Tony Gregson

Better investment in and coordination of our plant genetic resources centres can benefit both global food security and rural Australia.

Garden Variety

By Emile Frison

Crop improvement, environmental sustainability and higher farm incomes all depend on agricultural biodiversity – as does simply consuming a healthy, balanced diet.

Agricultural biodiversity is a source of desirable traits. The genetic basis of disease resistance, for example, is sought from a vast array of agricultural biodiversity and then bred into existing crop cultivars and livestock breeds to create new cultivars and breeds that are better able to thrive under stress. This kind of scientific breeding will remain important as the world grapples with feeding more people a better diet using fewer resources.

Mammal Extinctions: A Top End Tragedy

By James Fitzsimons

A surge of mammal extinctions is underway in the Top End, according to an alarming new report.

If, as an animal lover who owned lots of pets, you came home to discover that some of your beloved four-legged friends were no longer there, you’d probably think something was amiss. You might call a neighbour, your local council or even the police. Strange then that, save for a small group of scientists, the recent absence of small native mammals from northern Australia’s vast natural landscape seems to be going unnoticed.

Aquatic Biodiversity and the Livelihoods of Fishers in Developing Countries

By Stephen Hall

An understanding of all levels of biodiversity is needed to address poverty and hunger in developing countries, including that of people who rely on fishing or fish farming to live.

In 1992, representatives from 172 govern­ments met in Rio de Janeiro for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) – also known as the Earth Summit. At this meeting they agreed upon and opened for signature the Convention on Biological Diversity, one of our most significant, wide-ranging and far-reaching environmental conventions. Eighteen years later, as we celebrate the International Year of Biodiversity, it is a fitting time to reflect on how our understanding of biodiversity has developed and how important it is to our lives.

Biodiversity and Food Security: Nourishing the Planet and its People

By Denis Blight and Cathy Reade

Can we have our biodiversity and eat it too? International and Australian specialists discussed this pivotal question at the 2010 annual conference of the Crawford Fund, one of the very few events during the International Year of Biodiversity focusing on biodiversity conservation and world food security.

There’s little doubt about the importance of two separate challenges: how to feed a hungry world nutritiously, and how to better understand and sustain biodiversity.

Expansion without Extinction

By Kiribandage Jinapala

Managing agricultural development while conserving biodiversity is a challenge for practitioners of development and conservation.

Ecosystem and biodiversity conservation are seriously threatened in countries pursuing irrigation as a strategy for economic development. Sri Lanka, for instance, has been implementing large irrigation projects since the country gained independence, but has not paid adequate attention to the protection of its natural resources. As a result, degradation of natural ecosystems is now widespread, with some 560 animal and 690 plant species under threat of extinction.

Critical Situation for Pavlovsk Station

By Global Crop Diversity Trust

The international scientific community has called on the Russian President to halt the destruction of Pavlovsk Station – the Russian plant collection critical to the world.

Momentum behind a global effort to save Europe’s most important collection of fruits and berries reached a new level in early September as the Russian Housing Development Foundation (RZhS) postponed the sale of the Pavlovsk Experimental Station and announced the formation of an independent international commission to evaluate the presence of unique plant specimens housed there.

Editorial

By Sally Woollett

Editor, Issues

An overview of what's in this edition of Issues.

This year, the International Year of Biodiversity, up to an estimated 58,400 species ceased to exist on Earth. This sobering statement is based on Conservation International’s estimate of one species extinction every 9–44 minutes . Although alarming, this information also serves as an imperative for international activity to face the facts of species decline.