Key Concepts for Solutions

I. Introduction

Conserving Biodiversity is often equated with keeping areas completely pristine and disconnecting them from all human influences (Redford et al., 1999). While it is true that ecosystems can only be in a natural state with minimal human influence, this is not a feasible solution for most of the world, since most land is used by people in some way (World Bank, WDI, 2006) and will need to remain used for continued human survival. In order to preserve ecosystem services and still provide for human needs, it will be necessary to integrate natural and human-controlled biomes in ways that will influence both positively. There are two key concepts with which solutions and policies, both pertaining specifically to biodiversity and other decisions which were not initially considered relevant to biodiversity such as urban planning or agriculture, should be evaluated: ecosystem integration and biomimicry.

II. Ecosystem Integration

An illustrative example of ecosystem integration is the agricultural system in Tikopia (Mertz et al., 2010). Tikopia is one of the few island societies in the world that is economically and physically divided from the rest of the world and thus has a self-sustaining agriculture. Almost all of it is farmed, yet even so it does not experience any of the common environmental problems such as nutrient depletion, depletion of natural resources such as fisheries and forests or soil erosion. This arises from their farming technique, which ultimately relies on people working mainly on farming their small areas of land for many different crop species, both annual (yams, cassava, taro, sweet potatoe, vegetables) and perennial (fruit trees, bananas, coconuts). This system emulates a tropical forest in its supplication of different height levels, which makes it possible to grow many different kinds of food while preserving growth conditions similar to tropical forests. This is supplemented by fishing from the coral reefs surrounding the island. This makes it possible for around 1200 people to live on an island of 500 hectares using basically neolithic technology for planting, which is a proportion of people to arable land that is about the same as the world average (0.3 people per hectar). Tikopians also have a history of considering environmental impacts: Sometime during the 17th century, they collectively decided to slaughter all the pigs they had brought to the island (basically removing an invasive species), because of the damage they did to the environment (i.e. their farming areas).

In a financially regulated society with a high distance between consumers and farmers and industrialized agriculture, producing a disconnection between farmers and their environment, considering the environment is not as simple, as damage is often not directly connected with people?s actions. Next to considering integration as a concept for specific solutions, there is also the matter of connecting ecosystem services with monetary value, making it necessary to pay for the destruction or use of such a service, such as potable water or nitrogen fixation. In economical terms, this is referred to as the internalization of external effects, meaning that effects of a product which benefit or damage other economic participants are included in market prices due to monetary exchange mechanisms. These mechanisms can include rigorous polluter-pays legislation that allows for monetary exchange between perpetrators and victims of ecosystem destruction through negotiations or court decisions, a taxation method which determines the price of ecosystem services and imposes taxes on goods which use up these services or a cap-and-trade system in which ecosystems are assigned a value, the total ecosystem destruction deemed sustainable is issued as a number of assets and any damage done to ecosystem must be covered by an asset allowing such destruction. This last proposition comes with minimal costs to bureaucracy, as only the amount of sustainable destruction needs to be determined and the compliancy of the private sector controlled.

III. Biomimicry

Another main concept underlying ecosystem integration is biomimicry (Biomimicry 3.8, 2011), which is the study and adaptation of natural processes into our own technical applications. This is not a new concept – it even appears in Ancient Greek sagas (Daedalos: Talos observation of snake teeth and the consecutive invention of the saw) – yet it is often not considered for new inventions today. Some research is being done in systematically including ideas derived from the observation of nature in new inventions for processes or products, such as using bacteria which obtain energy from oxidizing metals to extract copper from low-grade ores. This is especially interesting because of the high efficiency often observed in such processes. However, biomimicry is hardly ever considered for agricultural or urban planning, which often create highly abiotic environments which are not necessary. Emulating to recreate a functioning ecosystem in urban or agricultural areas could lead to a marked increase of biodiversity and ecosystem services in urban and agricultural areas, which could in turn lead to increased health, crop yields and quality of life.

IV. Conclusions

All together, biomimicry and ecosystem integration are important concepts that can considerably help attain our goal of providing higher biodiversity and ecosystem services.