Lack of biodiversity spells threat to human survival: scientist

28 May 2013


Scientists have over the years been warning about the rapid extinction of the world's species; however, the head of a new global organisation says even domesticated plants and animals were facing a decline in biodiversity - a phenomenon that, according to a press release, ''constitutes a fundamental threat to the well-being and even the survival of humankind.''

These were the first remarks of the chair of the new Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an independent institution modeled on the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Zakri Abdul Hamid.

The IPBES would work to narrow the divide between leading biodiversity scientists and policy-makers.

Zakri, co-chair of the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, also served as science advisor to Malaysia's prime minister. He pointed to findings by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation: "We are hurtling towards irreversible environmental tipping points that, once passed, would reduce the ability of ecosystems to provide essential goods and services to humankind."

According to Zakri, the lack of diversification was a result of breeds that became rare either due to their characteristics not being part of contemporary demand or because the differences of their qualities were not recognised.

According to Zakri, though, there was hope yet in the case of animals.

He said the good news was that the rate of decline was dropping but the latest data classified 22 per cent of domesticated breeds at risk of extinction.

Zakri said preserving the neglected animal breeds and plants was necessary as they could have genes resistant to future diseases or to shifts in the climate to warmer temperatures, more droughts or downpours.

In his first speech as founding chair, Zakri told a conference of 450 experts in Trondheim, central Norway, that the loss of biodiversity was happening faster and everywhere, even among farm animals.

Many traditional breeds of cows, sheep or goats had fallen out of favour, due to their lower yields of meat or milk. He added, globalisation also meant that people's food preferences narrowed down to fewer plants.

There were 30,000 edible plants but just 30 crops accounted for 95 per cent of the energy in human food that was dominated by rice, wheat, maize, millet and sorghum, he added.

He said it was "more important than ever to have a large genetic pool to enable organisms to withstand and adapt to new conditions'', adding, it would help to ensure food for a global population set to reach 9 billion by 2050 from 7 billion now.

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