What types of organisms are there
Konstantin Kreiser works at the Naturschutzbund Deutschland as an expert on biodiversity.
© NABU / Eric newcomer
Mr. Kreiser, how many types of living beings are there on earth?
Many researchers assume there are around 10 million species. But new ones are constantly being found, and others die out before they are discovered. So far only 1.5 million species have been described, so a large part is still unknown. And this despite the fact that scientists find over 5,000 new species every year. In the case of insects alone - the most species-rich group of living things - it is assumed that 90 percent of the species are still waiting to be discovered.
Where on earth can you find the greatest biodiversity?
There are probably significantly more species on land than in the sea, as the habitats on land differ more from one another: 1.2 million species of land creatures are compared to “only” 200,000 species in the sea. The tropical rainforests are certainly the most diverse - there are probably still many species to be discovered here, especially insects. But little is known about the depths of the seas either.
Instead of biodiversity, biodiversity is often used today: what does this term mean?
Biodiversity is a bit more than the diversity of species: For example, it is also about the diversity within the species, such as different subspecies or “races”. On the other hand, the term also means the diversity of living spaces.
Why is it important that there are many types?
Many animals and plants are dependent on others, for example they need them for food. When individual species disappear, many other living beings are also affected, not least humans - like a net in which ever larger holes are torn. Animals and plants also provide us humans with many important things, including food, wood and textile fibers. They also influence the climate and purify drinking water. A high level of biodiversity also means that diseases cannot spread so quickly. Last but not least, people can relax in nature from everyday stress.
Are there species that play a special role in this network?
Yes, it can be said that there are species that play a slightly more important role than others. But the problem is that far too little is known about which species perform which functions. It would therefore be dangerous to believe that one could simply forego any kind because it does not appear to be of any use. In addition, a high diversity of living beings is in itself valuable for us humans - and therefore worth preserving.
Why are so many species threatened today?
In the course of the earth's history, numerous species of living beings have repeatedly died out, mostly due to dramatic climate changes or meteorite impacts - a well-known example is the end of the dinosaurs. Today humans are in the process of triggering another mass extinction: through the destruction of habitats, overfishing, the introduction of alien species - and not least through human-made global warming. Many species are no longer able to adapt to the speed of climate change. So if you want to preserve biodiversity, you also have to protect the climate.
Why is global warming threatening so many living things?
The climate has changed again and again in the course of the earth's history, but recently humans have accelerated this enormously by emitting greenhouse gases. The species have adapted to certain climatic conditions in their habitats - dry or wet, cold or warm. When the climate changes, the species have to adapt quickly to these changes - if it becomes warmer in Europe, for example, many species have to migrate north. Or they settle in the Alps at higher and higher altitudes, but this is not possible indefinitely. Climate change is also becoming a problem for migratory birds: when the winters are shorter and not so cold, they return from Africa earlier. However, they often lack food because certain insects have not yet developed that early.
Which living things are currently particularly threatened with extinction?
There are so-called “red lists” of the species that are most threatened. In Europe, frogs and newts are particularly hard hit - especially when their habitats are destroyed. But intensive agriculture is also leading to the disappearance of many species, such as meadow birds and butterflies. In Europe, astonishingly, the big cities are often more species-rich than their agricultural surroundings.
What can be done to preserve biodiversity?
Everyone can start with themselves. Keyword environmentally conscious nutrition: eat less meat and buy products that have been produced in a nature-friendly way. It is also important to save energy in order to protect the climate - for example, by driving less in the car.
The Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU) is one of the largest recognized nature conservation associations in Germany. In the Nature Conservation Youth (NAJU), children and young people can also get involved in environmental and nature conservation. You can find more information at http://www.naju.de.
The interview was conducted by the science journalist and geographer Georg Neulinger.
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