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May 28, 2019

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Importance of biodiversity conservation

In Canada, wildlife seems to be closely associated with human society. It is not uncommon to spot raccoons or rabbits sneaking into a backyard even in a metropolis such as Ottawa.

In fact, approximately 40 percent of Canada’s land is covered by forests, making up 9 percent of the world’s total forest cover and it shelters a wide range of species. Along the highways, the variety of animal crossing signs are present to remind people not to interfere with natural and social norms.

Conservation International has identified 35 biodiversity hotspots on a global scale. All of the biodiversity hotspots have terrestrial ecosystems with a rich but extremely fragile ecological diversity. Although Canada has a wide variety of flora and fauna, it has not been selected as a hotspot, which might attribute to its already effective biodiversity conservation.

Professor Mckee at the University of Ottawa has been working on animal and plant research for many years. In association with the federal government, she has established a dynamic database of animals and plants to study the endangered species in Canada and strategies implemented for preservation. This work is significant for the nationwide data analysis of biodiversity in Canada, and certain policies might be amended as a result of her study. Being a high school student, I am extremely privileged to provide some support for Professor Mckee’s work. Not only does it allow me to better understand what I have learned in school, it also provides me with the opportunity to learn more about cutting-edge scientific issues.

Last summer, I was privileged to study the biodiversity of the Himalayan region, one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. The Himalayas generally refers to the Hengduan Mountains on the edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the northwestern part of Yunnan Province. Before the end of the Mesozoic era, the Himalayan region had already risen above sea level and was not impacted by continental glaciers. Therefore, many rare and endangered species living there survived the Quaternary glaciation.

In the Himalayan region, there are approximately 25,000 plant species, of which 30 percent are endemic. Animal resources are abundant as well, including giant pandas, red pandas, snub-nosed monkeys, wildebeests and snow leopards. There are 35,000 species of insects, accounting for 10 percent of the world total, and 1,200 species of birds, accounting for 13 percent of the world total. The Himalayan region is referred to as “Noah’s Ark” in an ecological sense, attributing to its altitude.

Demographically, the Himalayan region is home for over 20 Chinese ethnic groups, such as the Tibetan, Yi and Bai. Many of the ethnic groups live in family-based congregations, following thousands of years of tradition. These people are devout believers of the primitive religion and have a great faith in universal spirituality.

Since the primitive religion respects endemic animals, such as snow leopards, as the gods of mountains, it indirectly ensures the survival of endangered species. Adoring original flora and fauna, topography and ecology, the inhabitants of the Himalayan region have made a tremendous contribution to the protection of local biodiversity. However, the modern construction has become a pressing dilemma to this pristine region, imposing challenges to its fragile biodiversity. Airplanes are transporting tourists over the mountain peaks, hydropower stations and mining sites are threatening animal habitats and invasive species are stronger competitors, even predators to the endemic species.

Fortunately, people have taken action to protect this fragile life, such as the Kunming Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, located in the Kunming Botanical Garden, in Kunming, capital of Yunnan province.

Professor Li Dezhu, director of the institute, is one of the most outstanding scientists in China’s plant taxonomy. He has participated in the establishment of the southwest China Wildlife Germplasm Resource Bank, China’s first wildlife germplasm resource protection facility following international standards. He is also a director of the facility.

Currently, the bank has collected more than 1.4 million kinds of plant specimens. While the germplasm bank is one of the various protection measures, the genetic analysis methods pioneered by the Canadians also have wide applications. National parks, conservation areas and botanical gardens have been built to raise the awareness of biodiversity protection and its influence on society.

I asked Professor Li Dezhu about the biodiversity and protection of the Himalayan region in comparison to that of Canada. He acknowledged my concern about Canada’s missing biodiversity hotspot. A “hotspot” identifies with a region that has fragile biodiversity threatened by human activities.

In Canada, trees enjoy the same right and dignity of living as humans. When I go cross-country with my team, we have to be aware of not harming the surrounding plants. Canada also has a strong forestry industry: The timberlands in British Columbia are famous around the globe.

This uneasy balance between protection and utilization of a forest is maintained in Canada. As a result, Canada is one of the most experienced countries in this field. Following Canada’s path of environmental protection, scientific research is the ground of efficacious protection of the Himalayan region, leading to rational and sustainable development.

Professor Li Dezhu has introduced the successfully applied genetic technology to the protection of two subspecies of giant pandas and five subspecies of giant salamanders, as well as the extraction of paclitaxel from alpine yew and southern yew based on molecular DNA analysis. Professor Li Dezhu is also leading his team to build a biodiversity database in the Himalayas, similar to the work of Professor Mckee. If the works of Professor Mckee and Professor Li Dezhu are compared, it may reveal some significant information about biodiversity distribution and protection on a global scale.


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