This is a summary I wrote about biodiversity taken from Chapter 13: Unmined Riches by Wilson, "The Diversity of Life".
Biodiversity plays an important role in our environment and society. Without it we may not have the plethora of vaccines and treatments that were drawn from organisms around the world. This is because of the unknown characteristics of the wide diversity of organisms. These characteristics may provide medicinal, efficiency boosting, or other unknown values to society. With knowledge of plants there may be a more efficient way to produce food and can result in benefitting everyone. “The new species is resistant to diseases and unique among living forms of maize in possessing perennial growth” (Wilson 281). With knowledge of animals, Insects, and other organisms there may be medicinal value that can be discovered. “A rare beetles sitting on an orchid in a remote valley of the Andes might secrete a substance that cures pancreatic cancer” (Wilson 281). Of course the uses of plants, animals, insects, and other organisms are interchangeable which make the possibilities bottomless. There are two problems that are hindering the biodiversity of our earth. The first problem is that the environment has changed to a state in which life not agreeable with. “One is alteration of the physical environment to a state uncongenial to life, the now familiar syndrome of toxic pollution, loss of the ozone layer, climatic warming by the greenhouse effect, and the depletion of arable land and aquifers – all accelerated by the continued growth of human populations” (Wilson 281). The second problem with the environment is that we already loss much of our biodiversity because of the first problem. “The second category is the loss of biological diversity. Its root cause is the despoliation of the physical environment, but is otherwise radically different in quality” (Wilson 282). Although we may not be able to get back much of the biodiversity that was lost there still is much that can be done to save our environment from further harm and improve it. Another contribution to these problems we have is the unbelieving ignorance that people may have that dismisses the medicinal value of organisms as legends. In order to take action at saving biodiversity people shouldn’t just sit back but get involved and we should research and find what these organisms are capable of. This initiative to research may lead to many new discoveries that can be beneficial to society. “Once the active component is identified chemically, it can be synthesized in the laboratory, often at lower cost than by extraction from raw harvested tissue” (Wilson 286). This is because there are synthetic materials and natural materials with the skills readily available we can apply them to the natural remedies and improve or enhance these remedies. “Some of these less-than-natural substances may prove even more efficient on human subjects than the prototype, or cure diseases never confronted with chemicals of their structural class in nature” (Wilson 286). Another really dynamic addition that organisms from our environment provide is food and many organisms in the environment are edible. The environment may have more unknown potential, but we already use many organisms from the environment for food which gives more reason why we should preserve the environment because it provides something as important for survival as food. “Perhaps 30,000 species of plants have edible parts, and throughout history a total of 7,000 kinds have been grown or collected as food but, of the latter, 20 species provide 90 percent of the world’s food and just three—wheat, maize, and rice—supply more than half” (Wilson 287). These foods can be found all over the world at different climates which means that less obvious locations can still be bountiful of useful organisms in their environment. Some examples of these organisms are plants such as: Maca (“Cold-resistant root vegetable resembling radish, with distinctive flavor; near extinction”), Arracacha (“Carrot-like tubers with delicate flavor”), and Ullucu (“Potato-like tubers, leafy part a nutritious vegetable; adapted to cold climates”), which are all found in the Andes (Wilson 288) These plants that are used for food have such a wide variety of uses aside from eating the plant raw such as being used as a nutritional supplement. “Another premier native crop of the Americas is amaranth. It is only now coming into the markets of the United States, mostly as a cereal supplement” (Wilson 291). Other uses that come from edible plants other than growing and consuming it raw are: oils, baskets, and pulpwood. “Different parts of the tree (Babassu palm) are used by local peoples to make feedcakes for livestock, pulpwood, thatching materials for roots and baskets, and finally charcoal” (Wilson 293). This shows that there is a wide diversity that can be done with our environment to take advantage of what offers. Another innovation to look forward to is saline agriculture which is using salt-tolerant plants to cultivate land not previously arable (Wilson 293). With this available that opens an entire new spectrum of possibilities because that means that plants may be grown where unsalted water is not readily available. To complete this circle of life some plants may even be able to salvage salty water preserves without a great contribution of labor from people. “In the forbidding Atacama Desert of northern Chile, where seven years may pass without rain, the tamarugo tree sends roots through a meter of salt to tap brackish water deep within the desert soil” (Wilson 294).