Every species on earth represents a unique way of coping with the world around us, and each has evolved a unique set of tools, or adaptations to help it do so. Some tools to help find food, mates, tools that help resist pests, and tools that increase a species’ ability or cope with unpredictable change; some species are better able to cope than others.
Environmental change can comes in many forms, and at every scale. From the draining of a wetland, to the crash of an asteroid. But no matter what the cosmos have thrown at it, life always seems to find a way, seem to overcome these disturbances, but how?
When conditions change, plants and animals have three options. They can vamoose, decamp. They can migrate, and disperse to a more favorable region. If there’s enough time, species can evolve new traits and strategies to cope with their new conditions: they can adapt. But if a species is not able to either migrate or adapt, they may face local extinction.
The ability to adapt is crucial for life on earth to cope with changing climates and land uses. The greater the variety of adaptive solutions, the more likely that one will be successful at thriving under new conditions. Since every species has a different approach to coping with change, the existence of each increase the likelihood that a solution, effective at coping with climate chang for example, will arise.
Similarly, for species to persist through change, they must have the capacity to adapt. There must be adequate genetic variation within the gene pool from which natural selection can draw upon to select for newly adapted traits. Fragmented populations are less resilient to change, in part because they are not receiving a flow of new genes from surrounding populations for new adaptations to be derived. So when we talk about biodiversity, we mean the variety of species, but also genetic diversity present within a species, essential for the maintenance of future viable populations.
UN Decade on Biodiversity
So important is this biological diversity to the resilience of our plant to future change, that the United Nations has declared 2010-2020 the international Decade of biodiversity. It sounds fantastic, but what does that actually mean for you and me and the rest of the biosphere?
The most powerful part of this declaration is its call to action. The official website reads:
“Each day counts. The actions taken by individuals, stakeholders and governments are important steps, one building on the other, towards protecting the life support systems that not only ensure human well-being, but support the rich variety of life on this planet.” Basically, governments and individuals now not only have an obligation to protect and enhance biodiversity, but are officially mandated to do so under international law. Make no mistake, this is some serious business.
Specific targets have been outlined in their Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, but they boil down to five main goals:
- Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society
- Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use
- Improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity
- Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services
- Enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building
You can read the Strategic Plan and learn more about the Decade on Biodiversity at https://www.cbd.int/2011-2020/goals/
St. Williams Nursery & Ecology Centre is the largest native plant nursery in Ontario, and as such we are also a major conservation partner in Ontario, participating in biodiversity enhancement with a wide variety of customers clients and research partners.
We grow and curate a living collection of over 500 species of source-identified Ontario native plants, all grown by seed, and many salvaged from remnant communities at risk of human development. Not only do we grow the plants themselves, but we also grow over 90 acres of wildflowers and grasses for their seed. Scaling up to this size help to increase genetic diversity within the species by mimicking a migration event, and mixing genes from previously fragmented populations. They also serve as fantastic pollinator meadows and support an incredible wealth of animal diversity.
We are committed to conserving local Ontario plant genotypes and providing the most ecologically appropriate plants possible to anyone in Ontario working to restore habitats and enhance biodiversity.