Like Tomkat and Brangelina, the term "biodiversity" cobbles together two words biological diversity. Its a broad term that essentially refers to the variation of life, such as the variety of plants and animals (a.k.a. species diversity) or the variety of habitats. Some consider biodiversity essential to ensure enough food to feed everyone on Earth. Among the many reasons, genetic diversity helps provide resistance to pests and diseases.
Lets look at bananas as an example.
You may have heard that the banana may go extinct, prompting the possibility that grocers will recite that old song lyric, "Yes, we have no bananas."
Called the worlds most popular fruit, the banana in any case is in trouble, whether or not it vanishes for good. A key problem: Shrinking numbers of wild bananas in India, the worlds main producer, due to overexploitation and loss of forests because of urbanization, slash-and-burn cultivation and logging. (See: www.fao.org) The rapid loss of wild banana species mean the fruits gene pool is shrinking, including genes from ancestors of the very same Cavendish variety seen at your supermarket. The Cavendish accounts for nearly all of the world trade in bananas.
You know the old saying warning against putting all of your eggs in one basket (in this case, its bananas)? Relying on only one banana species to dominate the world market makes it vulnerable to disease. Lo and behold, a deadly fungus (called race 4 of Panama disease) has struck in Southeast Asia. Fears are that it can kill Cavendish bananas in the tropics. If it sweeps through big-producing countries such as Costa Rica and Colombia, the Cavendish eventually may disappear from supermarkets, and the lack of a gene pool in India may clinch it.
The bananas plight illustrates the importance of biodiversity in this case, encouraging more than one variety of banana among the 500-plus species that exist (though many have lost the ability to produce seeds and appear very hard to propagate).
Consumers can encourage biodiversity by buying unusual or heirloom varieties of foods; among bananas, oddities include small Goldfingers and the colorful Red Deccas. Movements such as Slow Food USA are encouraging the concept with efforts to save endangered American fruits, vegetables, meats and poultry. Slow Foods USA, Seed Savers Exchange and Native Seeds) are among seed banks that have prevented the extinction of heirloom fruits and vegetables; gardeners can buy seeds from their catalogs to grow the rarities at home, including heirloom tomatoes like the Ponderosa Red, originally introduced to American gardeners in 1891. Nothing serves as inspiration quite like biting into a hard supermarket tomato that tastes like Styrofoam!
Historic tidbit: During the Irish Potato Famine that killed more than 1 million people, a fungal disease called late blight swept through fields planted with a single potato variety Lumpers. Irish farmers soon began to notice the other varieties that showed resistance to the blight and "the theory of disease resistance was born"
For more info:
See a list of endangered foods and get info on where to buy them or their seeds.
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