Question No. 28

Is biodiversity indeed responsible for the ecological resilience?
Answered 6 January 2011.
Question author: a colleague.
Asked 6 December 2010.

Diseases are all diverse. Health is uniform.

It is important to understand the controversial meaning of the word "diversity" in the above context. Let us take a simple example: a human being. For the human body to be "resilient" (i.e., healthy) some diversity is apparently needed: we must have arms, legs, a head, two eyes, a nose etc. We are not healthy ("resilient") if we lack any part of this "diversity".

At the same time, if we need to do something meaningful and important (e.g., build a house or win a football match) we need several healthy people. They all must have legs, arms, a head etc. In other words, they must be uniformly healthy. If our players or builders get sick — one catches a cold, another one breaks his leg, a third one has insomnia or gallucinations etc. — we will also have a diversity. However, this diversity (which is maximized in hospitals) has apparently nothing to do with resilience. It is equivalent to chaos, i.e., it reflects the erosion (decay) of the meaningful information that characterizes a healthy human body. Likewise, the intraspecific genetic diversity of biological species represents the permissible decay of their genetic information rather than a meaningful evolutionary potential. In contrast, the diversity of species in natural ecosystems is functional and meaningful (one species is a "leg", another is an "arm" etc.)

These two diametrically opposite types of "diversity" are not recognized in the dominant Euro-American mentality. In the result, the diversity meme causes all types of conceptual confusions. In order to preserve environmental stability, we do not need biodiversity per se. We need intact ("healthy") natural ecosystems (be they the relatively species poor boreal forests in high latitudes or the highly species rich ("diverse") rainforests in the tropics) to occupy sufficiently large, globally significant areas. When one flies over Siberian taiga, one does not see any diversity. All one can see is a uniformly green carpet that is formed by three to five dominant tree species. The corresponding ecological communities to which these tree species belong possess and continuously process a huge amount of environmental information. It enables them to control the environment efficiently and practically infinitely keep the environment stable, favorable and resilient. (Some of natural ecological communities, like the epilithic lichens, can be composed of a minimal number of species). Our civilization is inferior to natural ecosystems in its ability to evaluate and process real time information about the environment. The restoration and preservation of natural ecosystems is the only strategy to safeguard an environment favorable for our existence.

Epilithic lichens

Epilithic lichens, a stable ecosystem with a minimal number of species.

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