Since 1953 research on biodiversity and biomes around the world have been endlessly studied. We understand more than ever before how biodiversity was “built”, and how biomes have become what they are today. There is evidence pointing to a long-ago supercontinent that answers so many of our questions about species distribution. There is fossil evidence verifying the same fossil types found on the different continents we see today. (May 2018) I do believe that we understand how biodiversity was built. Considering the size of the Earth, there will always be more learn. The depths of the ocean are still 95% unexplored. (NOAA, 2018) The evidence and substantial amounts of data can be pieced together to give us a decent understanding of how the biodiversity we see today was built.
As humans, we are not interfering intelligently with the planet’s biota whatsoever. We are careless in our actions and assume that the damage we are causing our planet is not as important as our materialistic perspective. Tropical rainforests sustain an overwhelming amount of over 50% of the Earths biodiversity. We are selfishly destroying the rainforests at an alarming pace of 8 million hectares (31,000 square miles) per year. (Butler, 2018) If this rate continues, scientists estimate that in 100 years there will be no more tropical rainforests left. The 10 million varieties of species that live in these areas will be needlessly wiped out and replaced mostly by billions of chickens, cows, sheep, goats, and pigs for consumption and clothing.
I believe one tremendous course of action we could take to stop this unnecessary destruction of our planet is to adopt a vegan diet. Humans adopting a vegan diet would result in overwhelmingly positive changes for our planet and all its biodiversity. Going vegan would halt deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest alone by 75%. (McCarthy 2016) With approximately 33% of biodiversity loss being linked to animal agriculture, species would stop getting their habitats destroyed and take back their chance of avoiding extinction.
The 70 billion livestock animals raised annually for food each produce up to 9 times more waste than humans. It is imperative to consider that this waste is being discharged into our water systems, in some cases leading to algal blooms and killing marine and freshwater animals. (Climate Nexus, 2018) Humans adopting a vegan diet would not only stop the current mass extinction we are believed to be experiencing, but it would reverse negative effects caused by the unnecessary practice in the first place.
There are many hypotheses that describe the latitudinal gradient in species diversity. My rankings of the top 3 major hypotheses for what contributes to latitudinal gradients in biodiversity is as follows:
- Solar energy: light and heat
- Positive feedback
- Environmental stability
My reasoning for choosing solar energy: Light and heat at the top of the list is because research has proven that the intense solar radiation found at the equator is a leading cause of the vast amount of biodiversity found here (5). According to the Biogeography textbook, higher amounts of solar energy are direct causes for diversification of species due to UV caused mutations. This not only means that many varieties of species can grow here because of the intense sunlight, but also that this sunlight causes mutations which result in divergence of new species.
Positive feedback is the next major hypothesis which I feel best explains the gradient. Positive feedback includes the aspects of competition, predation, mutualism, and parasitism. These are all commonly occurring factors that affect which types of species thrive in each area. This is a major factor in natural selection and ensures the species with the best traits for a given latitudinal area thrive.
Lastly, the environmental stability hypothesis is a key contributor to the latitudinal gradient and biodiversity. Tropical environments have proven to be the most stable over time, and this has directly positively influenced the biodiversity living there. This hypothesis explains how lack of stability in an environment results in higher chances of species going extinct because of their inability to adapt to the environment.
Systematics is useful for understanding nature because understanding the diversification of different lineages throughout time helps focus on how species are interrelated. Understanding how systematics works help to piece together the story of a species and all its ancestors, kind of like a family tree. Scientists study a large variety of the species they are interested in and place them into smaller groups based on differentiation patterns.
They use these species to study possible causes for morphological differences that have resulted over evolutionary time. Understanding monophyletic, paraphyletic, and polyphyletic helps understand the relatedness of a species with its ancestors. If a group is monophyletic, then it is known that one common ancestor gave rise to every descendant in that group. For an example that would interest Uncle Fuzzy, one study conducted by researchers at the University of Florida found that butterflies all share a single common ancestor. (Sterling, 2003) This common ancestor was found the be the geometer moth belonging to the family Geometridae.
If Uncle Fuzzy was interested in the conservation of all butterflies, he could avoid the use of harmful pesticides in his garden and ensure the pest control guy doesn’t kill the small moths that fly around his light outside and, as these are part of the Lepidoptera, which also includes the butterflies. There is substantial DNA based research on butterflies that exemplifies certain butterflies are more susceptible to bottleneck effects. (Yirka 2018) Uncle Fuzzy could start advocating for these specific butterflies in order to protect their environment from human destruction that could be prevented. It is wonderful that Uncle Fuzzy has interest in evolution and as the family biologist, I would make sure to push him to advocate for the biodiversity he wishes to protect and educate him on the systematics of future species he realizes he fancies.
As the Biodiversity Czar of Florida, my first policy would be to ban any and all further deforestation statewide and stop destruction of wetlands. Florida will no longer maintain contracts with clearcutting companies. This will not only protect biodiversity found in these areas but will also avoid releasing carbon emissions from the burning of trees. Instead of funding for the destruction of our wildlife, we will use this money to expand our inner cities vertically. By creating a community that is closer together, Floridians can utilize public transportation, bicycling, and walking to get around. This not only provides more opportunities for Floridians, but also cuts carbon emissions, and prevents destruction of the areas that provide homes to all the biodiversity in the state.
My second policy as the Biodiversity Czar of Florida is to make cleaning our water a priority. The way this would be done is by increasing the water tax. (I don’t have to worry about non-environmentalists not voting for me since I’m already the czar) By increasing the water tax, Floridians will be forced to be more conscious of their water usage. With the profit made from this water treatment systems and up to date water infrastructure/aquifer systems can be put in place to prevent overflow of water in Lake Okeechobee. I will demand that Florida support the Sugar Policy Modernization Act and repeal the supply that funds this corporate greed. Sugar companies and animal agriculture companies will not be allowed to dump their waste into lake Okeechobee destroying our everglades. With the billions of dollars in efforts to restore the everglades, purchasing these companies to fix this problem is economically efficient in the long run and more importantly, will protect the salt and freshwater biodiversity in Florida.
The third policy I would make as Biodiversity Czar is to make it a goal to remove invasive species and their negative impacts. There are many organizations whose focus is to combat invasive species. I would ensure proper funding to these organizations to remove many of the damaging species such as the pythons, green iguanas, and lion fish. Invasive plants and animals must be removed in order to allow Florida’s natural biodiversity to thrive and regenerate.
Biogeography is such a broad field that there are often many theories in place that do not adequately represent the extensive amounts of biodiversity and natural events that occur on the planet. An example comes with the theory of island biogeography. There are many things about this theory that are well thought out and true, however, this theory omits natural disasters which play a huge role in biodiversity on an island population. Another huge weakness of biogeography is that not many people know about it, however I think this will change in the years to come due to the environmental state of the planet.
Something that I would consider to be a major strength of biogeography is that it is a highly interdisciplinary field. Interdisciplinary fields tend to consider many ideas from all different branches. Within biogeography, there is ecology, biology, evolution, geology, and more. This means that scientists that are experts in one of these fields must constantly compare ideas with scientists in other fields. Combining ideas from different disciplines produces a broad field with constant potential to grow and continue improving.
Moving forward, I believe future biogeographers will focus their studies heavily on the current changes happening to the planet due to climate change. Rising sea levels will heavily alter biome distribution and it will likely be the biogeographers who will research and collect data on this. Biogeography will possibly be a huge field going forward due to the people finally realizing that the planet is in a crisis.