Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences / Evolutionary biology, Entomology, Ecology
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Working as a biologist in a natural sciences institute that holds a unique historical entomological collection confronts me daily with the tremendous biodiversity loss we are experiencing. The large number of locally as well as globally extinct species in collections of less than a century ago illustrates the alarming rate at which we alter the environment surrounding us. Our research undoubtedly confirmed that agricultural intensification, industrialization and urbanization filters numerous insect species that are less well adapted to our human impact. This leaves us with a homogeneous fauna that represents only a fraction of the original biodiversity that once populated our regions. Yet, even for more remote places that are perceived as pristine, such as the Galapagos islands, introductions of exotic species ranging from ants to feral goats have led to large scale changes in species composition and species extinctions. The exact long-term impact of these global ecosystem changes remains difficult to predict, but there is unanimity that it is likely to be disastrous and irreversible. While ecosystems are often thought to be resilient, the high levels of disturbance they currently experience may force them to a tipping-point wherein further extinctions and ecosystems changes cannot be halted.
Protection of the remaining biodiversity is therefore indispensable if we want to reduce our tremendous impact on the natural environment. It is our responsibility as scientists to use these relevant findings and insights to correctly inform the public about our impact on species diversity and how to mitigate this. The alarming rate at which species decline has stimulated me to play a more active and voluntary role in the conservation of a unique local marsh and peatland ecosystem for more than 20 years. Acquiring funding, drafting management plans, publication of books and hands-on management of the pristine and restored grasslands and marshes within a large group of keen volunteers demonstrates that personal efforts may substantially and directly contribute to species conservation. Scientists, policy makers and NGOs should therefore continuously increase their efforts to appreciate and recognize the importance of biodiversity, such that it promotes the necessary self-initiatives to preserve it.