Native Village
Youth and Education news
Volume 3    April 2011

Irreplaceable: The World Most Invaluable Species
 http://www.earthwatch.org/ and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/
Condensed by Native Village

 Nearly 17,000 species are now considered to be threatened with extinction
869 species are classed as extinct or extinct in the wild
in
2009 alone, 183 more species became endangered.

England: What is the world's most invaluable species? Five leading scientists debated that topic at a 2008 Earthwatch event held at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

The scientists spoke in support of five endangered species: bats; bees; fungi; plankton and primates.  Each species is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.

 At the end off the debate, audience members had to follow their heads or hearts when placing their votes.

Which species did the audience declare as the most invaluable on the planet? Read the discussions below, make your own choice, then follow the link to meet the winner.
 

   PLANKTON
  Professor David Thomas of the School of Ocean Sciences, University of Bangor

"If you go back far enough in time, life started in the plankton, so we owe it a remarkable debt."

"Half of the world's oxygen is produced by these organisms. If you took that away you would lose the basis of life on the globe. There simply wouldn't be enough oxygen to support life."

 Size: 0.0004 - 0.04 inches

Number of different species: 50,000 in the light zone of the ocean alone

Strength in numbers: Billions of trillions

Threats: Pesticides and pollution can damage plankton blooms

Plankton is basically anything living in water that is too small to swim against the current. This includes krill and algae.

Plankton is a drifting soup of microscopic algae, creatures and bacteria. Plankton is not even a species -- they are an entire taxonomic kingdom.

P
lankton blooms are visible from space and can sustain billions of marine creatures.

Phytoplankton are plant-like organisms in plankton. Phytoplankton live close to the water's surface so the light enables photosynthesis.

Plankton's bacteria plays a vital role in breaking down organic material in the water and recycling dead organisms.

Zooplankton is made from tiny organisms ranging in size from a single-cell protozoa to jellyfish, krill and copepods. Zooplankton is a basic link in the ocean food chain.

Plankton provides food for some of the smallest and biggest animals on the planet, including the Blue Whale.

    FUNGI
 Professor Lynn Boddy, mycologist at the Cardiff School of Biosciences

"It was fungi that allowed plants to move onto land around 600 million years ago. Without fungi we would still be living in the ocean."

"They are involved in the production of many foods too. Mushrooms are fungi, but also bread, beer, cheese and chocolate all rely upon fungi to be produced. Many drugs such as penicillin come from fungi too."

Size: a single cell - 2,300 acres

Number of different species: Up to 1,500,000

Strength in numbers: millions of billions

Threats: Probably the least threatened group.

Fungi are a maligned group of species. They include pests that kill gardeners' plants, diseases that cause ailments like athletes foot, and molds that stain our homes and can make them unsafe.

But without fungi, we wouldn't have gardens, houses --or even our feet!  It was fungi that enabled plants to move from the oceans and onto land millions of years ago.  This symbiotic relationship still exists today.

Mycorrhiza is a fungi that gathers water and nutrients from the soil enabling the plants' roots to feed the plant itself. 

Fungi are nature's recyclers. They decompose dead plants and animals, then release the nutrients for the environment to use again.

Fungi are among the most abundant organisms on the planet. Among them are the Earth's biggest living organism -- a giant fungus known as Armillaria ostoyae which stretches for
2,384 acres in Oregon's Blue Mountains.

 

   BATS
 Dr Kate Jones, a bat expert from the Zoological Society of London

"Bats have an extraordinary diversity, which makes them an essential part of the ecosystem.
They are also a key indicator species that can provide information on the health of an ecosystem."

"Most crucially, bats are major agents of pollination and seed dispersal. Without them many crops would fail because they play such an essential part of the ecosystem
."

Size:  0.07 ounce - 3 pounds

Number of different species: 1,100

Strength in numbers: Billions

Threats: 1 in 5 species are threatened from habitat loss and persecution by humans.

Dracula and vampire bats have done little to enhance bats' reputations. Only one species is the notorious blood sucker. Most bats feed on insects and fruits.

Bats are the only mammal that can fly. They are so highly evolved that they can pinpoint an insect flying in the pitch black, then pluck it out of the air using echo location.

For this reason, bats are major predators of insects and play a key role in controlling insect numbers. T

Bats are the most abundant mammal on the planet. 20% of mammals are bats.

BEES
 George McGavin, honorary research associate at Oxford University's Museum of Natural History

“Bee populations are in freefall. A world without bees would be totally catastrophic.”

"We rely upon bees for just about every vegetable, flower and fruit around. They are a crucial terrestrial group and we would face mass starvation without them."

Size: Around 1/2 inch

Number of different species: 20,000 known species

Strength in numbers: Billions of individuals. A single honey bee hive can contain 40,000 bees

Threats: Populations have plummeted up to 80%Without bees, humans would starve.

Bees are the world's greatest pollinators, carrying pollen dust from flower to flower as they gather nectar for their hives. After millions of years of evolution, many plants rely almost completely upon bees to help them breed.

Crops such as almonds, peaches, avocados and apricots are totally reliant upon bee pollination.

Pollination's world economic value is around
$208,000,000,000 a year. This does NOT include profits from honey and wax produced by bees. 

Bee numbers have fallen up to
80% in some areas due to habitat loss, pesticides and diseases. The situation is so critical that beekeepers warned the British the no honey would be left in the shops by Christmas.

   PRIMATES
Ian Redmond OBE, Chairman of the Ape Alliance

"Primates are a keystone species in tropical rainforests. They are major dispersers of seeds as they eat fruits and then dispense the seeds in little packets of fertiliser around the forest.

"We need to protect primates today in order to have forests tomorrow that can absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and prevent the erosion of soil."

Weight: 1 ounce to 440 pounds

Number of different species: 394

Strength in numbers: 400,000 great apes, around a billion other primates

Threats: 114 species are threatened with extinction. Bushmeat hunters and habitat loss are the main threats

PRIMATES are our closest cousins. By studying them, humans have gained a remarkable insight into our own beginnings and how our complex cultures developed.

Primates share more than
90% of our DNA. For chimpanzees, our closest relatives, the genetic similarities  have surprised even the experts.

Primates are important to the economies of many countries.  In Rwanda and Uganda, the Mountain gorillas draw in the most foreign income through tourism.

Primates are among the most threatened of animals

Ian Redmond, chairman of Ape Alliance, an international coalition of organisations and individuals working for the conservation and welfare of apes, said: "

The first audience vote put Professor Thomas in the lead with plankton, followed by Dr. McGavin who argued for bees.  Each man was given another five minutes to win over the audience in a second vote.

THE WINNER???????

While Professor Thomas presented a superb summing up, Dr. McGavin won the day when he explained that 250,000 species of flowering plants depend on bees. Many of these plants are crucial to world agriculture. Without bees, we would lose not only flowering plants, but a great many of our food sources.

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