The Unsung heroes of Global Biodiversity
By: Zoe Ramsammy
We recently marked occasions that are dedicated especially to the environment. In close succession we had World Bee Day, International Biodiversity Day, World Turtle Day, and earlier this week it was World Environment Day… So, I took that as a sign to round it all off with a blog to show some love to our weird and wonderful world.
I wanted to find a way to try to link all these things together. It turns out, both bees and Turtles have one very sad thing in common- they’re both endangered. And they aren’t alone on the list. Not only that, but it turns out that their survival is crucial to our survival (cue the lion king’s ‘circle of life,’ sue me Disney.) Our world is so wonderfully interconnected… and while I doubt a little flutter of butterfly wings could change the course of the future, even the smallest of creatures are important.
Here are some endangered creatures that we literally would not be able to live without!
The first time I heard about the plight of the Bess was during my English GCSE exam, which was oddly about Colony Collapse Disorder. Pair that with the Bee Movie, and naturally I’ve come to grow a fascination with them.
Bees are pollinators they help plants and flowers to grow by transporting pollen on their flights; as humans we rely on bees to pollinate about 75% of the crops that we eat. Not to mention they are also responsible for the pollinations of 90% of wild plant life too.
Today, bees are considered endangered due to changes in agricultural practices, parasites, and predators and even potentially because of Wi-Fi! (Wi-Fi, scientists speculate, disrupts bee’s sense of orientation due to its electromagnetic radiation)
Turtles have been on the list of endangered animals since 1978, which is a pretty long time. But why are so many people desperate to save these silent sea dwellers?
Well, Turtles are vital to our ocean ecosystems, protecting coral and sea grass from invasive species that can harm underwater plant life. This is a huge deal considering that corals and Sea grass play a huge role in carbon capture in the ongoing battle with climate change. Turtles as adorable as they are, also fall low on the food chain… They are food to sharks and killer whales, and their hatchlings that don’t make it also provide important nutrients for predators like birds that help to keep coastal environments in balance.
The biggest threat to turtles is not just plastic straws, but the commercial fishing industry. The number of turtles ‘accidentally’ caught up in nets or with fish amounts in the hundreds of thousands. And it’s not just turtles- sharks, birds, whales, and dolphins all fall into this sad ‘bycatch’ category. It’s estimated 40% of all worldwide catches are bycatch.
3. Prickly Pear Cactus
Some of the most unnoticed and underrated living creatures in our world are the plants! One such example is the prickly pear cactus.
Native to the Americas, and the Caribbean this particular are used for food by humans, animals, and critters alike! Many of its varieties are now critically endangered due to other invasive plant species and destruction of its natural home. Losing this cactus would have knock on effects for the humans, animals and critters that depend on it; and it would change the land itself.
New plant life could bring other invasive critters, or different prey and predators that could completely wipe out the existing habitat as we know it! Now that’s a terrifying thought.
Often feared, and greatly misunderstood, Sharks are truly underrated and underappreciated. It’s safe to say that without sharks, the oceans ecosystem as we know it would completely fall apart.
A world without sharks would be a complete disaster. These apex predators keep all other animals in their food chain in balance, without them their prey can become overabundant which can have knock on effects which can lead to extinction the entire food chain. Sharks also responsible for depositing nutrients to corals in shallower waters, and their bodies store carbon which makes them invaluable to fighting climate change.
Ironically, since ‘Jaws,’ Sharks have been hunted and killed in the name of making beaches safer, and they are also eaten in many parts of the world. The sad fact is that over a third of all shark species are currently endangered, and while there are organisations dedicated to their conservation, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do our part too!
This Salamander, native to Mexico, are as unique in their looks as they are in their abilities. The name ‘Axolotl’ comes from the Aztec God Xolotl, so these creatures have had had huge cultural significance for centuries!
They may not look scary, but Axolotl’s are the top of their food chain, making them crucial to help balance populations of other animals within their food chain. Axolotls are also used as an indicator of how clean water is; the more axolotls inhabiting the water, the cleaner it is!
There are quite possibly exciting research possibilities surrounding these strange creatures, but the more dire focus should be getting these creatures back from being critically endangered. Threatened by urbanization, pollution, and invasive species; losing this wacky but wonderful creature would be a huge loss to our planet’s biodiversity.
6. Venus Fly Trap
The Venus fly trap. Stuff of nightmares, Mario bros, and one particular little shop of horrors. (My degree is quaking…)
They are quite intelligent; they never snap for false alarms, closing only when multiple of their trigger hairs are set off in quick succession. Even more interestingly, though they do eat insects, Venus fly traps never trap their pollinators.
These plants are found only in North and South Carolina, so the fact that they are currently vulnerable because of poaching (yes, that is a thing,) and habitat loss means that if they are lost, they’re gone forever.
7. Scottish wildcat
A little bit closer to home, the Scottish wildcat also called the ‘Highland Tiger’ is, you guessed it native to Scotland!
The only surviving member of the Wild cat family in Europe, they are natural predators to small animals such as rabbits, mice, voles, and other small animals.
The biggest threat these feline friends face is genetic extinction due to hybridisation. As they come into increasing contact with other hybrids, domesticated, and feral cats. They are also at risk from habitat loss, and road collisions as humans expand their reach.
Conservation efforts have been well underway for a long time by Scotland’s Nature Agency, and the Wildcat is recognised as a protected European species but there’s still plenty to be done. Hopefully there’s still enough time to preserve this highland tiger.
8. Pygmy 3 toed sloth
Sloths have existed since the ice age, I mean… exhibit A: The ice age movie franchise.
One would imagine that sloths are the most boring, uninteresting creatures on the planet and its practically sheer dumb luck that have seen them survive and evolve in the way that they have.
So why are they so important? Well, Sloths are their very own ecosystems. Within their fur they house diverse critters, and because of the moisture they retain they are also home to fungi and algae. This relationship is symbiotic, sloths fur becomes discoloured by it’s home dwellers which help it to camouflage with it’s environment.
This means that every sloth out there is home to a completely different ecosystem depending on the types and amounts of critters and algae it houses, how cool is that!
No, not armadillos… though they do have some similarities. Pangolins.
Pangolins, also known by the moniker ‘protectors of the forests,’ eat up to 70 million bugs a year. Though they may look reptilian they are in fact mammals, and even with striking resemblances to both armadillos and anteaters they are far more closely related to cats, dogs, and bears.
The pangolin also has the reputation for being the most trafficked animals on their planet. Illegal poaching has decimated their numbers, leaving the 8 species of this shy gentle creature on a sliding range between Vulnerable to critically endangered.
As natural pest control, losing pangolins would have catastrophic consequences for the forests they inhabit. Without Pangolins keeping termite colonies balanced, we could lose significant amounts of our planet’s forests to termite destruction.
Of all the creatures to exist, you would assume that the worms are safe; but to my surprise I found that they’re classified as vulnerable… So, not quite endangered just yet, but they could possibly be very well on their way.
Save the worms may not have quite the same appeal as cute fuzzy Bees, but worms are vital to our agriculture. Earthworm tunnels help to introduce air, drain water and their waste provides helpful compost. All their tunnelling also helps to make space for growing plant roots.
It’s safe to say that without these grossly wonderful critters, plants, animals, and humans would not be able to survive. We are all connected by a delicate balance, a spiderweb of interdependence; from the tiniest bug to the biggest mammal, we all have a role to play in keeping our planet going. Breaking one chain, even if it seems small an unimportant, can have devastating consequences that reverberate far beyond us.
Global biodiversity means Global responsibility. Even though some of the animals on this list may not view it as their responsibility (or perhaps they do, who knows maybe sharks can have mid life crisis’ too?) They all do their part to keep our world in balance.
That means that we have a responsibility too.
Sadly most, if not all, of the living creatures on this list have been affected by climate change or some other form of human intervention. We owe it to these animals, to ourselves, to look after each other and our planet. If we fail to look after any of it, we doom all of it.
And just so that this doesn’t end on a depressing note… What can ordinary folks like us do to help?
• Learn as much as you can! Read books, watch documentaries, listen to podcasts… There’s a treasure trove of information out there just waiting for you to grasp it.
Check out our World Environment Day collection of eBooks on Libby
• Reduce (or completely cut) fish from your diet. This one is not cut and dry and it comes down to individual discretion. The goal for us should really be sustainability when it comes to all the things that we do, including the way we eat. As it stands, Commercial fishing is one of if not the biggest contributor to destroying not just our oceans but our entire planet so cutting back on fish and other seafoods contributes less to the industry.
• Plant something!
• Reduce your carbon footprint by walking to work, or part of the way, for a couple days a week.
• Sell or Donate your old clothes, books, and electronics!
• Take a packed lunch to work or school.
• Remember the 7 R’s to making greener choices: Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Regift, Reuse, Recycle, Rot!
Even the smallest changes can make the biggest impact!