Biodiversity

What is the story?

The complexity of the way in which plants and animals interact with each other and the amazing variety of living forms that we see in North Carolina have evolved over millions of years. This assemblage is referred to as our biodiversity.

Plants and animals adapt continuously to small ongoing changes in their environment. These small changes from generation to generation help the species to survive.  

Changes in species are driven by changes in their environment. When changes occur in the air, water, and soil, the plants and the animals that depend on those plants must adapt or risk extinction.

Did you know?

Did you know that 40% of our medicines originated from wild plants?

Where are we now?

Because modern man no longer hunts across prairies and through woods, gathering daily food needs, we tend to forget the close interrelationship among the plants, animals, air, and water.

Because we have changed things so much, we can no longer take for granted that the air, water, plants, and animals will be able to support our biological needs.

If the world reduces its biological diversity, we in essence remove pieces of the environmental jigsaw puzzle, a puzzle which is tightly intertwined. We might not discern the changes in our lifetimes, but our children and future generations will inherit the results of our neglect.    

Man has the most significant effect of any influence on biodiversity:

  • We introduce non-native plants and animals to an area.
  • We purposely form new genetic materials, creating a genetic mutation. That may be to our benefit, but sometimes, such a mutation could be dangerous if not controlled (for example, a new virus).

Introduction of non-native plants and animals

Man challenges natural diversity by introducing non-native plants and animals supposedly to enhance our gardens and lives. About 4,000 plant species in the U.S. originated in other countries. Plants that succeed spread from their "enclosed" gardens and invade natural communities. These plants out-compete their natural cousins and literally swamp the native residents.

North Carolina’s story of the introduction of the kudzu plant illustrates how one foreign plant species now dominates some of the area’s landscapes, enveloping trees and roadside banks.

Formation of new genetic materials

Time and time again, we have turned to new genetic material to solve problems in food production and medicine. Now, we are researching ways to biologically generate energy. The "green revolution" of the last 40 years essentially moved the bulk of wheat or rice growth for example into the grain rather than the leaf. Today, some of these benefits help to increase crop production as a source of ethanol and other biofuels.

How does this affect me?

Imagine a world with fewer bird species, fewer plants, and a handful of mammals. Imagine a world without cardinals, bluebirds, or native plants.

It is difficult for us to believe that we could have so drastic an impact on plant and animal diversity, but we are doing that now. This sort of loss could certainly be realized in our grandchildren’s lifetime.

Most of the landscapes and living species of North Carolina have developed over 500 million years. Most of the changes we have made have taken place in 50 years.
In time, the loss of genetic variation could impact our ability to produce food and medicine. Our landscapes would change not just from development but also due to changes in plant cover.

The removal of a species affects the balance in the interconnected ecosystem. Removal of these ’puzzle’ pieces could alter our highly complex world.

 What can I do?

  1. Join one local and one national or international conservation organization working to protect species and habitats. Look at the World Wildlife Fund, Environmental Defense, Conservation International, the Nature Conservancy, National Audubon, or the Conservation Fund for national/international. Look also at the NC Zoological Society, your local Land Trust, or the many N.C. organizations involved with urban greening.
  2. Advocate for sensible planned well designed development in your community.
  3. Be careful not to introduce new species of plants or animals into your environment when traveling or moving. Do not introduce garden plants into the wild.
  4. Become aware of and protect rare and endangered species in your community.