Expanding Human Activities Are Threatening Biodiversity

February 26, 1999
Scientists Recommend Biodiversity Preservation

Scientists offer 27 recommendations for preserving the full range of biological diversity and state that stewardship of biodiversity is an unavoidable permanent obligation of modern society. The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST), an international consortium of 36 scientific and professional societies, released a report Benefits of Biodiversity in which a CAST task force of 14 scientists stresses that it is imperative that society significantly increase its investments in preserving and utilizing the full range of biodiversity. The task force chaired by Dr. G. David Tilman, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, and Dr. Donald N. Duvick, Iowa State University, Ames, includes individuals with expertise in agronomy, animal and poultry sciences, biological sciences, botany, ecology, economics, evolution, plant pathology, rural development, and zoology.

Why Do the Experts Recommend Conservation and Use of Biodiversity?

Productive and efficient agriculture, which is the foundation of modern successful societies, has depended on biological diversity.
  • Productive and efficient agriculture will be even more dependent on biodiversity in the decades and centuries to come.
  • The earth’s biodiversity is the past, present, and future source of all livestock, of all crops and pollinators of crops, of biological agents that control crop pests, of many agricultural pesticides and pharmaceuticals, and of ecosystem services essential to agriculture, including the creation of soils and the renewal of their fertility.
  • Expanding human activities are threatening this biodiversity, and thus compromising the long-term sustainability, productivity, and stability of agriculture and society.

What Do the Experts Recommend?

Preserve Biodiversity by Preserving Natural Areas

  • Increase worldwide network of biodiversity reserves, including properly managed forests and grasslands, national and regional parks, wilderness areas, and privately held lands, in order to prevent massive, human-caused extinction of species and loss of genetic diversity.
  • Preserve large blocks of land in native ecosystems to preserve terrestrial diversity.
  • Prevent habitat destruction worldwide because it causes large irreplaceable losses of genetic diversity of direct long-term value to crop and livestock production.
  • Increase the capacity of rural landscapes to sustain biodiversity and ecosystem services by maintaining hedgerows/windbreaks; leaving tracts of land in native habitat; planting a diversity of crops; decreasing the amount of tillage; encouraging pastoral activities and mixed-species forestry; using diverse, native grasslands; matching livestock to the production environment; and using integrated pest management techniques.
  • Educate policy makers and the public about the many ecosystem services that are provided by biodiversity in natural ecosystems.

Preserve Diverse Sources of Plant and Animal Germplasm for Future Agricultural Use

  • Ensure that genetic diversity now found in agricultural plants is preserved in seed banks and plant collections (ex situ) or as growing crops (in situ).
  • Ensure that wild crop and livestock relatives are conserved in carefully identified natural systems.
  • Devise systems for long-term and dependable conservation of rare breeds of farm animals and of their genetic diversity.
  • Provide adequate fiscal and administrative support for maintenance and utilization of germplasm collections.
  • Increase support for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Plant Germplasm System and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research’s (CGIAR) International Germplasm Centers.
  • Encourage private initiatives to conserve plant, microbial, and animal germplasm; compare these initiatives with public conservation activities to evaluate the total effort in conservation of agriculturally important germplasm.

Increase the Effective Use of Diversity in Agriculture

  • Develop and spread understanding of the “whole ecosystem” concept, which treats production agriculture as one component in a complex and highly interdependent ecosystem encompassing all aspects of nature.
  • Broaden the use of genetic diversity to protect crops against pest and weather problems by introducing multiple genetic systems for coping with biotic and abiotic stress.
  • Use biotechnology to improve and increase useful kinds of biodiversity in plants, microorganisms, and animals.
  • Provide support for studies that investigate and compare new and improved procedures for effective deployment of biodiversity in crop production and in different kinds of farming systems, particularly high-yield commercial farming systems.
  • Provide support for studies that investigate ways to utilize and maintain biodiversity more effectively in animal production systems, particularly intensive production systems.
  • Provide support for studies that demonstrate the interactions of agriculture with the other parts of the “whole ecosystem,” e.g., provide support for studies that independently manipulate diversity, species composition, and management practices related to rotational grazing, multi-species forest stands, and crop production.
A detailed discussion of the above recommendations is contained in the full report. The report is available in print and on the CAST World Wide Web site at https://cast-science.org.
Benefits of Biodiversity, 33 pages, is available for $15.00 from CAST. CAST identifies food and fiber, environmental, and other agricultural issues and interprets related scientific research information for legislators, regulators, and the media for use in public policy decision making. CAST is a nonprofit organization of 36 scientific societies and many individual, student, company, nonprofit, and associate society members. The CAST World Wide Web site is https://cast-science.org.

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