Importance of biodiversity has been recognized in most of the human disciplines from religion to science and it is not surprising that most of the cultures consider the value of biodiversity.
Ayurveda, Unani and other traditional medicinal systems and even modern medicinal system heavily rely on plants and wildlife.
A large number of plants and wildlife have traditionally been integral part of religious practices of Hindu religion and are being worshipped even today.
Biodiversity, therefore, has a great importance for humans. Importance of biodiversity can be classified into direct and indirect values. Biodiversity renders direct value when it provides direct services in terms of goods, agriculture and raw materials to industries, etc. It renders indirect value in terms of its great and invaluable ecological services.
Some of its services are as follows:
1. The biodiversity existing on this planet has a great importance for mankind because it actually boosts ecosystem’s productivity, where each species, no matter how small or big, has an important role to play in ecosystem and that it is in combination which enables ecosystem to possess the ability to prevent and recover the variety of disasters (CPCB, 2002).
2. Biodiversity controls the global climate, create soil and maintain its fertility, inhibit agricultural pests, maintain atmospheric gas balance, process organic waste, pollinate crops and flowers and recycle nutrients.
3. Biodiversity—plants, algae and photosynthetic bacteria—are the only device; we have to capture energy from sun effectively. Energy from the sun enters the living world through photosynthetic organisms and passes on from one organism to other in the form of food. So, existence of biodiversity is necessary for the energy flow (food cycle) in ecosystem. It is also very important for keeping geo-biochemical cycle functioning (CPCB, 2002).
4. Biodiversity has a great economic importance because humans have always relied on the natural world for fuel, fodder, and food, etc., and despite our technological development; it remains true in today’s world too. In India, many rural communities particularly the tribals obtain considerable part of their daily food from the plants. Similarly, a variety of faunal species, e.g., insects, molecules, spiders, wild herbivores, etc., are consumed by many tribal and non-tribal communities.
Approximately 80,000 edible plants have been used at one time or another in human history, of which only about 150 have been cultivated on a large scale. Today, a mere 10-20 species meet about 80-90 per cent of food requirements of world (MoEF, 1999).
5. In early time, nearly all medicines were derived from biological resources. Even today they remain vital as about 60-70 per cent of modern medicines are derived from natural products. In developing countries, about 80 per cent population relies on plant and animal extracts for primary health care. About 20,000 species of plants are used for medicinal purposes in these countries. In India, almost 95 per cent of prescriptions are plant based in traditional system of Unani, Ayurveda and Sidha. These medicinal systems have relied heavily on biodiversity.
6. The Ayurveda system of medicine states that there is no plant on earth which is not medicine. Besides cultural, religious, amenity values are also there. Considering all these values of biodiversity, it can be said that biodiversity is to be preserved and conserved at any cost, if humans want to survive in near future.
Otherwise, the most intelligent species on earth, i.e., humans will disappear from the earth like some other species, e.g., tiger, lion, leopard, etc., because human are just like any other species in ecosystem. But, biodiversity has been under severe pressure in recent past, which has led to a serious environmental problem, i.e., erosion of biodiversity also known as biodiversity loss.
There are various threats that have aggravated the problem of biodiversity loss, e.g., overexploitation of natural resources, over-killing of wild animals, land use/cover change, habitat destruction and fragmentation, escalating growth of human population, introduction of exotic species, climate change, increasing natural calamities, etc.
Thus, it is obvious that biodiversity is very crucial not only for maintaining ecological balance but also for the human beings. It, therefore, has to be conserved at any price otherwise human being may also become endangered in near future. Biodiversity has been under severe pressure of disappearance.
Many factors viz., land use/cover change, climate change, extreme events and escalating pressure of human demands have put biodiversity under harsh conditions in recent past. Thus, it is important to know the driving forces affecting it. Also, it is imperative to understand the situation of India’s biodiversity and its comparison with world.