biodiversity farmers

Introduction

Biodiversity is the variety of living organisms and the genetic variation in a region including below our feet. Most people only consider the things we can see, feel and touch as significant and mostly ignore that which is in the soil. In a 2011 survey, it was estimated that there were 8.7 million species in the world while only 1.2 million have been formally described. In relation to livestock grazing, biodiversity refers to the woodlands, native scrub, trees, shrubs and native grasses, as well as the animals, insects and microbiology that call this environment home. The rural industries strive to manage the environment in a manner that not only co-exists along-side rich biodiversity, but also helps biodiversity to thrive.

How many living creatures are there in the world?

In a 2011 survey the following numbers were estimated to be found in the world.

Farmer's Role

Farmers and graziers livelihoods and success are intimately linked to the health of the land and so depend on healthy ecosystems to provide a myriad of services. These include - soil health, nutrient cycling, waste recycling, pollination from insects, sediment control and clean water. Some of the threats to biodiversity include climate change, invasive species (weeds, animals and diseases), loss/degradation of habitat, unsustainable use of natural resources, changes to the aquatic environment and poorly managed fire regimes. Every creature is reliant on other lower order lifeform for their survival (food) – this is the “web of life”. If we remove one part of the web, we end up with major a catastrophe, such as disease problems, weed outbreaks etc.

In developing a BMP, we need to consider the impact an action may have on all groups of living organisms within that system as often the smallest creatures may have the biggest effect. In managing the grazing and farming of land, this includes:

Environmental sustainability will require farmers to continue to manage biodiversity issues, enhance critical intact habitats, restore ecological function to critically degraded landscapes through sustainable practices; increase cover of native vegetation to enhance ecological connectivity across fragmented landscapes and build local knowledge and capacity for long-term stewardship of the environment.


Agricultural Census figures

2005-06 Agricultural Census figures reported in 2005, 7% of Australia’s farmers had collectively fenced off 1.3 million ha of degraded or saline land areas, trees and shrubs, creeks and rivers, and remnant vegetation with 35,800 kilometres of new fencing to protect these areas from grazing. In the same period, 4.2 million trees and shrubs were planted for nature conservation purposes as well as 6.3 million trees for the protection of land and water areas.

A BIODIVERSITY BMP

All of these individual creatures from microbial life-forms to the bovine animals (cows and sheep) have an impact on the system whether positive or negative to the ecosystem. A BMP for managing biodiversity is to design activities that will have the least impact on the existing biodiversity within that ecosystem. Many farm biodiversity monitoring programs use birds as an example of measuring impact.

Soils

Overall soils contain the greatest reservoir of biodiversity on earth, and the functionality of the soil ecosystem sustains the rest of life on land (terrestrial biosphere). Soil microbes and plant roots micro-engineer their habitats by changing the porosity and glueing properties of the soil pores and aggregates. Microbes also create a habitat that allows or disallows other creatures from thriving or dying in that soil. GBP Qld is working closely with CQUniversity and Microbe Labs Australia to assess microbial life in soils under various management regimes. It is well known that various farming systems are detrimental to certain microbes and support other microbial groups.

Plants

About 7,000 species of plants have been cultivated for consumption in human history. The great diversity of varieties resulting from human and ecosystem interaction guaranteed food for the survival and development of human populations throughout the world in spite of pests, diseases, climate fluctuations, droughts and other unexpected environmental events.
Today, about 30 crops provide 95% of human food energy needs, including rice, wheat, maize and potato which are responsible for more than 60% of our energy intake. Due to the dependency on this relatively small number of crops for global food security, it will be crucial to maintain a high genetic diversity within these crops to deal with increasing environmental stress and to provide farmers and researchers with opportunities to breed for crops that can be cultivated under unfavourable conditions, such as drought, salinity, flooding, poor soils and extreme temperatures. We rely on plants for food, and a disease that targets a major crop could have serious implications on food security. Unfortunately, the world's major staple crops have been greatly homogenized over the years, and that's not a good thing. Many countries have lost agrobiodiversity.

Biodiversity on Farms from Victoria

An increasing number of studies are showing the benefits of wildlife and remnant vegetation.

These are examples of some of the findings from these studies:

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