SCIAM on biodiversity’s essential importance

It seems to be a day for adding to my summary pages! This has gone into “peak everything”…

The tremendous variety of species held in wilderness areas, particularly the tropics, is our bank and lifeline, our agricultural and medical insurance policy. Three-quarters of the world’s food supply comes from twelve plant species, but those species are dependent on thousands of others: pollinators (insects, bats, birds), soil microbes, nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and fungi. The tropical rain forests contain a pool of genetic diversity for important food crops, a source for vital new strains that can be hybridized to fight pests and diseases. Botanists are combing the planet for wild ancestors of soybeans, tomatoes, hard wheat, and grapes, believed to contain valuable genes for drought tolerance and other characteristics, but much diversity has already been lost. Genetic engineering alone cannot replace what hundreds of millions of years of evolution have given us. Wild replacements for pineapples, pomegranates, olives, coffee, and other crops lie in biodiversity-rich areas that must be saved.

via Could Re-Wilding Avert the 6th Great Extinction? [Slide Show]: Scientific American.

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