Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Loss of Rochester’s Biodiversity

The United Nations has declared 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity. It is a wake-up call because we know that biodiversity around the world is crashing, which is why our age is sometime referred to as either the Holocene Extinction or the Sixth Great Extinction. However, unlike the other five mass extinction events (caused by asteroids, volcanoes, or global warming), this one is human caused.

It is big news: “The UN launches the International Year of Biodiversity on Monday, warning that the ongoing loss of species affects human well-being around the world. Eight years ago, governments pledged to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010, but the pledge will not be met.” (January 11, 2010) BBC.

So, how does this affect the Rochester, New York area? To answer that we must first ask: What is biodiversity? “Biodiversity is the variation of life forms within a given ecosystem, biome, or for the entire Earth. Biodiversity is often used as a measure of the health of biological systems.”—from Biodiversity - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Next, we must ‘see’ our region not only as our home, our place of work and play, but as a distinct part of our planet’s environment. Sounds silly to have to make this point, but you’d be surprised how many people tend to forget we are an integral part of the four billion year experiment called life on this planet. And if you think those new HDTV’s are complex, they’re nothing compared to LIFE (biodiversity). Life is a factor of complexity on this planet beyond your wildest dreams with its components so interconnected as to make the smallest change affect all other life—sometime big changes (like death), sometimes small changes (like a faint whisper when a bug buzzes by your ear).

So, what is the state of our area’s biodiversity? Answer: Hard to tell. No individual or institution has actually gone out and compiled all the information and reviewed all the historical data one would need to come up with that information. You’d think people would want to know; how else can you tell how things are going? How do you know what we are losing in biodiversity without a sustained effort to collect the data?

What can be teased out of just the Wildlife (sorry, no room for Plants in this essay) news of the past couple of years to get a sense of the biodiversity in our region? Here’s what I came up with: These guys are doing well: dogs and cats (boy, these creatures made out great hitching their fortunes to us humans) and deer, crows and pigeons. Bears are coming back and so are Bald Eagles, otters, Peregrine Falcons, and cormorants (which have come back so quickly that measures are being considered to halt their spread for fear of robbing fishermen of fish).

Troubling are the species that aren’t doing so hot. Bat populations nearby are collapsing (due to white nose syndrome) so rapidly that some fear their disappearance altogether. Great Lakes fish populations are being decimated by VHS disease, botulism, and toxins (Up to the Gills: 2009 Update on Pollution in Great Lakes Fish), and maybe the Asian Carp if it gets established. Bird populations have changed according to “the National Audubon Society that shows how local and national threats are combining to take a toll on birds, habitat and the environment across the country.” (June 15, 07) New York State News on the Net!

What does it all mean? Can we possibly tell from the ad hoc information that exists on our local biodiversity whether we have enough endemic plants and animals in the right proportions for a sustainable biodiversity here in Rochester, NY? I’d say we should be conduction studies trying to find that out—as a part of a larger, comprehensive study. Just guessing about the state of our area’s biodiversity might not turn out so well for

No comments: