Biodiversity in balance
From microscopic organisms to seed-hoarding birds to the tallest trees, an ecosystem is a collection of individual plants and animals in careful balance. Just like in your workplace, circle of friends, or each organism has an important role to play. Some examples include:
- The garbage collector – the person in your life who will lick everyone’s plate and never lets food go to waste. In an ecosystem, this might be fungi or decomposing bacteria. These species work to breakdown decaying organisms and recycle their nutrients back into the ecosystem.
- The one who always has food – possibly the mom of the group. Alternatively, “primary producers” in an ecosystem, which are all of the organisms (such as plants) that can make their own food, usually through photosynthesis. The primary producers are essential to the food chain, creating the baseline energy that all other organisms rely on.
- The one who holds you all together – your boss, your family’s matriarch, or your most organized friend. In ecosystems, some species have the important job of physically holding the ecosystem together. For example, the roots of trees or underground stems of grasses help to hold soils in place.
- The engineer – some species are exceptionally good builders, like your friend who could make anything from popsicle sticks and a roll of tape. Consider beavers: when beavers dam a waterway, they are changing the way that ecosystem works. These species build, change, and maintain habitats in the ecosystem.
- The control freak – someone who has more control than others over how the rest of the group acts. In an ecosystem, this could be a “keystone species”, often predators who control populations of prey. Without these species, ecosystems tend to look and work entirely different.
Organisms aren’t just grouped by the typical food chain – producers, consumers, predators, decomposers – they can also be grouped based on shared behaviours and their roles in creating a healthy ecosystem. In ecosystem conservation, the goal is to protect as many organisms in each role as possible. Instead of protecting just species that are threatened or endangered, we need to protect a collection of species whose behaviours support the health of others. Instead of protecting only one species in each role, we need to protect multiple species to create some redundancy and resilience to unexpected change, like wildfire or floods.
Protected areas designed to include multiple species within each role are well-equipped to preserve a healthy functioning ecosystem into the future. When protected areas are large enough and well-managed to reduce threats from industry and development, they can ensure that biodiversity is in balance.
CPAWS-NB sees protected areas on land and at sea as the best opportunity to conserve and restore ecosystems. Currently, New Brunswick lags behind other Canadian provinces in creating protected areas, but in the Pathway to Canada Target 1, New Brunswick has an opportunity to contribute to Canada’s goals of protecting 17% of land and freshwater by 2020. CPAWS-NB is eager to work together with Indigenous, federal, provincial, and municipal governments in creating protected areas that secure our habitats for the benefit of all New Brunswickers.