The Biodiversity Factor: How A Sustainable Lifestyle Helps Global Ecosystems

The Biodiversity Factor: How A Sustainable Lifestyle Helps Global Ecosystems

At Ducky we’re all about calculating climate emissions. Our overall goal is to let you know exactly how much carbon you’re putting into the atmosphere, so you can make more sustainable decisions and understand the effects immediately. 

But there are a bunch of things that the Ducky calculator doesn’t account for just yet, one of the big ones being the impact of our lifestyles on the species we share the planet with.

Biodiversity has become a bit of a buzzword over the last decade, and it essentially encapsulates the variety and relative amount of all the different forms of life that occupy our planet.

Our impact on biodiversity is hard to measure, but it’s always worth thinking about when you’re making more sustainable changes to your lifestyle.

Below, I’ve listed some of the big impacts our lifestyles can have on the planet in addition to carbon emissions, and how they can affect global biodiversity.

Land Use Change

Climate change might be the more well-known threat, but increasing land use is by far the biggest threat to the species that occupy this planet alongside us. Agriculture alone is a contributing factor to the threatened status of over 75% of bird and mammal species.

Meat production is a big one here. Over 60% of the overall mass of mammals on the planet is purely cattle. 36% is us, which leaves a measly 4% for all non-human and non-bovine mammal species [1].

Cows produce massive amounts of emissions, but they also take up a LOT of land, which has severely reduced the amount of land left for the rest of the 9 million species on the planet.

Images of orphaned orangutans and heavily-logged forests might be the ones that spring to mind, but fragmentation (the breaking up of large swathes of forest, grassland, or any other habitat type into smaller, more isolated patches) is a global phenomenon.

It’s a problem in nearly every country on the face of the planet.

Eutrophication

Eutrophication entails the injection of more chemicals into a source of fresh or saltwater. Often these chemicals would naturally be in short supply, limiting the growth of algae and keeping general plant matter in a lake, beach or river in check.

But when a factory dumps chemicals more than they should, or a farmer destroys a series of trees to allow their cattle to graze near the river, these chemicals and minerals start to enter the ecosystem at higher levels, which in turn means that algae often starts to increase drastically.

Eutrophication

Loading rivers with chemicals are harmful to the Arctic charr (Røye), the northernmost salmonid in the world.

This might sound harmless, and sometimes there are enough herbivores around to take care of this excess. But often it can lead to less light getting into a body of water, which can lead to a massive drop in oxygen, and turn the entire food web on its head.

Freshwater systems in particular are at huge risk of eutrophication, as they hold a massive amount of the world’s aquatic species despite holding just a tiny fraction of its water.

Sometimes the effects can even be toxic to humans, with algal blooms resulting in skin and lung conditions.

Invasive Species

Many species that are moved from one side of the world to the other don’t take up residence there permanently. Of those that do, most don’t have too severe an effect on their ecosystem. But for every 10 that don’t, there’s often one that does, and that one can wipe out other species and sometimes even change the landscape.

Constant trade and travel between nations is a big pathway for these species.

Take species like the Zebra mussel, which cost the US government about $1 billion a year, or the common ragweed, which is making its way through Norway and substantially decreases crop yield. These make their way to new countries through the increase in overseas traffic brought about by increased consumption.

What To Do?

The great news is that all those same measures we take to reduce our climate footprint have positive effects on the planet’s biodiversity. Less manufacturing leads to less land use, lower chemical production, and less unnecessary trade between nations.

We’re currently working on incorporating the effects of our behaviour on ecosystems into our calculator, and soon we’ll be able to tell you what sort of affect your behaviour will have on global habitats, from the Arctic tundra to tropical rainforests.

So watch this space, and as always, if you’ve got any ideas/comments/questions, get in touch!

[1] https://www.pnas.org/content/115/25/6506

Sam Perrin, PhD

Climate Data Expert, Ducky AS

As well as being one of our climate data experts, Sam is also an avid science communicator and runs the blog Ecology for the Masses, where he and a team of international writers break the world of biodiversity and ecology for the general public. Check it out here!

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