Saturday, July 4, 2009

Biodiversity - Noah's Ark

69. Biodiversity - Noah’s Ark - An article by Mohan Pai - July, 2009

Noah's Ark

or Manu & the Fish

"With more and more species threatened with extinction by the flood that is today’s global economy, we may be the first generation in human history that literally has to act like Noah - to save the last pair of a wide range of species. Or as God commanded Noah in Genesis “ And every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female” - Thomas L. Friedman

Native global flood stories are documented as history or legend in almost every region on earth. Old world missionaries reported their amazement at finding remote tribes already possessing legends with tremendous similarities to the Bible's accounts of the worldwide flood. H.S. Bellamy in Moons, Myths and Men estimates that altogether there are over 500 Flood legends worldwide. Ancient civilizations such as (China, Babylonia, Wales, Russia, India, America, Hawaii, Scandinavia, Sumatra, Peru, and Polynesia) all have their own versions of a giant flood.These flood tales are frequently linked by common elements that parallel the Biblical account including the warning of the coming flood, the construction of a boat in advance, the storage of animals, the inclusion of family, and the release of birds to determine if the water level had subsided. The overwhelming consistency among flood legends found in distant parts of the globe indicates they were derived from the same origin, but oral transcription has changed the details through time.

Perhaps the second most important historical account of a global flood can be found in a Babylonian flood story in the Epic of Gilgamesh. When the Biblical and Babylonian accounts are compared, a number of outstanding similarities are found that leave no doubt these stories are rooted in the same event or oral tradition.

Matsya Avatar

Manu - the Indian myth

The Matsya Avatara of Lord Vishnu is said to have appeared to King Manu (whose original name was Satyavrata), the then King of Dravida, while he washed his hands in a river. This river was supposed to have been flowing down the Malaya Mountains in his land of Dravida. According to the Matsya Purana, his ship is supposed to have been perched after the deluge on the top of this Malaya Mountains. (This land or kingdom of Dravida that was ruled over by Satyavrata or Manu might have been an original, greater Dravida, that might have stretched from Madagascar and East Africa in the west to Southernmost India and further to Southeast Asia and Australia in the east.) The little fish asked the king to save It, upon his doing so, kept growing bigger and bigger. It also informed the King of a huge flood which would occur soon. The King builds a huge boat, which houses his family, 9 types of seeds, and animals to repopulate the earth after the deluge occurs and the oceans and seas recede.This story is to an extent similar to other deluge stories, like those of Gilgamesh from ancient Sumerian Mythology, and the story of Noah's ark from Judeo-Christianity.

With the human population expected to reach 9-10 billion by the end of the century and the planet in the middle of its sixth mass extinction this time due to human activity the next few years are critical in conserving Earth’s precious biodiversity. It is our generation and our civilization that is responsible for causing the flood of commercial development which is causing Global Warming and pollution that could wipe out much of the world’s biodiversity.

To quote E. O. Wilson “Except from giant meteorite strikes or other catastrophes every 100 million years or so, Earth has never experienced anything like the contemporary human juggernaut. With the global species extinction rate now exceeding the global species birthrate at least a hundredfold, and soon to increase ten times that much, and with the birthrate falling through the loss of sites where evolution can occur; the number of species is plummeting. The original level of biodiversity is not likely to be regained in any period of time that has meaning for the human mind.”Since Man is causing this flood, it also now becomes his responsibility to build the Ark that is needed to preserve life on the earth.

Let us consider the following facts:

During the past 150 years, humans have directly impacted and altered close to 47% of the global land area.

Under one bleak scenario, biodiversity will be threatened on almost 72% of Earth’s land area by 2032.

48% of South East Asia, the Congo Basin, and parts of the Amazon will likely be converted to agricultural land, plantations and urban areas — compared with 22% today, suggesting wide depletions of biodiversity.

Starting some 45,000 years ago a high proportion of larger land animals became extinct in North America, Australia, the Caribbean, and elsewhere, coinciding with human arrival.

The current textbook definition of "biodiversity" is "variation of life at all levels of biological organization".

Biodiversity can be defined as the totality of life on earth. It's a vast field, encompassing all the world's ecosystems, all the plant and animal species that populate those ecosystems, and all the genes that make up the hereditary material of each living species. To get some inkling of the vastness of the topic I am reproducing below E. O. Wilson’s speech given at the Explorer’s Club on March 18, 2006:

What is left to explore?

Why, the biosphere of course, that razor-thin membrane of life plastered to the surface of Earth so thin it can’t be seen edgewise from an orbiting space vehicle yet still the most complex entity by far we know in the universe. How well do we understand this part of the world? Proportionately not very much. We live on a little-known planet. Let me give you some examples. The best-studied animals are the birds, which have been carefully collected by naturalists and explorers for centuries. Nevertheless, an average of 3 new species are added each year to the 10,000 already described by scientists. Comparable to them are the flowering plants: about 280,000 species known out of 320,000 or more estimated to exist. From there it goes steeply downhill. You’d think that the amphibians—that is, frogs, salamanders, and caecilians—would be comparable to the birds, but in fact they are still poorly explored: from 1985 to 2001, 1,530 new species were added to the 5,300 already found, an increase of over one-fourth, and with more new species pouring in.

When we next move to the invertebrates, what I like to call the little things that run the world, we get a fuller glimpse of the depth of our ignorance. Consider nematode worms, the almost microscopic wriggling creatures that teem as free-living forms and parasites everywhere, on the land and in the sea. They are the most abundant animals on Earth. Four out of every five animals on Earth is a nematode worm. If you were to make all of the solid matter on the surface of Earth invisible except for the nematode worms, you still could see its outline in nematode worms. About 16,000 species are known to science; the number estimated actually to exist by specialists is over 1.5 million. Almost certainly the world’s ecosystems and our own lives depend on these little creatures, but we know absolutely nothing about the vast majority. To continue: about 900,000 kinds of insects are known to science (I’ve just finished describing 340 new species of ants myself, for example) but the true global number could easily exceed 5 million. How many kinds of plants, animals, and microorganisms make up the biosphere? Somewhere between 1.5 and 1.8 million species have been discovered and given a Latinized scientific name. How many species actually exist? It is an amazing fact that we do not know to the nearest order of magnitude how many exist. It could be as low as 10 million or as high as 100 million or more.

Those of us in biodiversity studies say that we have knowledge of only about 10 percent of the kinds of organisms on Earth. The nematodes and insects and invertebrates all shrink in diversity before the bacteria and archaea, the dark matter of planet Earth. Roughly 6,000 species of bacteria are known. That many can be found in the 10 billion bacterial cells in a single gram, a handful, of soil—virtually all still unknown to science. It’s been recently estimated that a ton of fertile soil supports 4 million species of bacteria. We believe each one is exquisitely adapted to a particular niche, as a result of long periods of evolution. We don’t know what those niches are. What we do know is that we depend on those organisms for our existence. A search is on right now at least for the bacteria that live in the human mouth. The number of species adapted to that environment so far is 700. These bacteria are friendly; they appear to function as symbionts that keep disease-causing bacteria from invading. For those species your mouth is a continent. They dwell on the mountain ridges of a tooth; they travel long distances into the deep valleys of your gums; they wash back and forth in the ocean tides of your saliva. I’m not suggesting that we give an Explorer’s Club flag to a dentist. But you get the point. Every part of the world, including Central Park where a new kind of centipede was recently found, has new kinds of life awaiting discovery.

But—if none of this impresses you, would you like an entire new living planet for your delectation? The closest we may ever come is the world of the SLIMES (that’s an acronym for Subterranean Lithoautotrophic Microbial Ecosystems), a vast array of bacteria and microscopic fungi teeming below Earth’s surface to depths of up to 2 miles or more, completely independent of life on the surface, living on energy from inorganic materials, possibly forming a greater mass than all of life on the surface. The SLIMES would likely go on existing if we were to burn everything on the surface to a crisp. In approaching biodiversity, we are all explorers, scientists and all others who care about the natural world, now put in perspective, like Cortez and his men on a peak in Darien, before the new ocean, staring, in Keat’s expression, in wild surmise at the unknown world stretching before us.

E. O. Wilson's Explorers Club Speech 18th March, 2006

Coral Reef

The highest percentage per unit of area of endangered species are in the tropical rainforests and coral reefs. These species are now disappearing at the rate somewhere a thousand times faster than they are born due to human activity. At this rate, in one human lifetime, half these species of the world which have developed over thousands or millions of years, could be eliminated. Conservation needs to be focussed on the hot spots of biodiversity and fresh water systems of the world. Fresh water systems deserve special attention because they are under heaviest assault from pollution and drainage.

Most of the species extinctions from 1000 AD to 2000 AD are due to human activities, in particular destruction of plant and animal habitats. Raised rates of extinction are being driven by human consumption of organic resources, especially related to tropical forest destruction. While most of the species that are becoming extinct are not food species, their biomass is converted into human food when their habitat is transformed into pasture, cropland, and orchards. It is estimated that more than a third of the Earth's biomass is tied up in only the few species that represent humans, livestock and crops. Because an ecosystem decreases in stability as its species are made extinct, these studies warn that the global ecosystem is destined for collapse if it is further reduced in complexity. Factors contributing to loss of biodiversity are: overpopulation, deforestation, pollution (air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination) and global warming or climate change, driven by human activity. These factors, while all stemming from overpopulation, produce a cumulative impact upon biodiversity.

“The science of living beings in general, and especially of the human individual, has not made such a great progress. It still remains in the descriptive state. Man is an indivisible whole of extreme complexity. No simple representation of him can be obtained. There is no method of comprehending simultaneously in his entirety, his parts and his relations with the outer world.”
“We are beginning to realise the weakness of our civilisation. Many want to shake off the dogmas imposed upon them by modern society - those who are bold enough to understand the necessity, not only mental, political and social changes, but the overthrow of industrial civilisation and of the advent of another conception of human progress’’

- Man, the Unknown - Dr. Alexis Carrel.

References: ‘Hot, Flat, and Crowded’ by Thomas L. Friedman, E. O. Wilson’s work, ‘Man the Unknown’ by Dr. Alexis Carrel, Wikipedia.


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