Hey Dude-Biodiversity Rocks!

“You know what? Biodiversity is pretty much God’s biggest mistake,” claims junior Scott Zelley. “I really don’t see how it is at all relevant to anything at all.” Although his sentiments are rather harsh, they are shared amongst the general population.

The awareness of biodiversity is growing, however many are still left in the dark as to what exactly biodiversity is and why exactly it is important. I myself have recently just discovered the importance of biodiversity (even after taking environmental studies and natural resources courses) by reading an article in a recent issue of National Geographic highlighting the importance of biodiversity in Yellowstone National Park.

Between 1914 and 1926, one-hundred and thirty-six wolves were killed in Yellowstone National Park for predator control. Because of this massive wipeout of wolves there were barely any sightings of wolf packs starting in 1940 and in the 1970’s scientists found no evidence of a wolf population in Yellowstone. Eventually this led to a lack of predation of the elk in the park resulting in a very high elk population. However, in 1995 wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone to take care of the ever-increasing elk population. But only recently have the results from the reintroduction of the wolves become apparent: the elk population has not dropped significantly at all. Instead, dramatic changes to the ecosystem as a whole have become the most prevalent change of the reintroduction of wolves.

In Yellowstone before the wolf reintroduction, elk preferred to hang out streamside and munch very heavily on cottonwood and willow, which usually led to sever over-browsing of the two species. Instead, now that the wolves have been reintroduced, the streamside cottonwoods and willow are taller than they have been in decades. What happened was that the reintroduced wolves had taken a liking to the same streamside habitat that the elk previously had. With predators in their feeding ground, the elk have removed themselves from potential danger and no longer fed on the streamside cottonwood and willow.

The rejuvenation of these riparian species has now strengthened the stream banks reducing erosion and providing a riverside wildlife habitat for songbirds whose population is now steadily increasing. Additionally the beavers have been reaping the benefits of the willows creating new aquatic habitats. The National Park Service was astounded when the reintroduction of the wolf led to the revival of so many species and habitats that had previously been hindered by the over-browsing of elk by the riverside. It was astonishing that the disappearance of one species could have such an impact on the entire ecosystem. The park today plans on ensuring that there is a steady population of wolves in the park to “keep the elk on their toes.”

I hope this article has offered a little enlightment about the importance of biodiversity in an ecosystem. If not, keep trying (I’m not asking you to sympathize with those trustafarians and wookies in front of library preaching to masses about biodiversity, nobody’s a fan of them). Biodiversity is simply very important. To learn more about it, check out http://www.globalissues.org/EnvIssues/Biodiversity.asp.