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International Day for Biological Diversity: EU Research

The United Nations has proclaimed May 22 The International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues.

Biodiversity is the complex web of life on Earth, incorporating humans and our social and economic systems. The number of life-forms on Earth is unknown, but it may be some 20–30 million species, of which only about 1.8 million are known to science. Biodiversity can be studied at the level of the whole planet or confined to a mountain lake. However, whatever the level, the organisms interact in a complex, dynamic manner – both among themselves and with the non-living environment they share. Animals, plants and micro-organisms are a vital resource for humans, forming important elements in many processes on which we depend. .

European research is directed towards assessing and forecasting changes in biodiversity and understanding the dynamics of ecosystems, particularly marine ecosystems. The relationships between the environment, the society and the economy are analysed in order to identify – and mitigate – potentially harmful effects on the environment and on human health and society. Risk assessments based on European research allow us to better manage, conserve and rehabilitate our ecosystems in a sustainable manner for future generations.

Here are two examples of successful, EU-funded biodiversity-related research projects:

Photo of a bee on a flower

Preserving the pollinators to protect human health

It is a quiet, modest process which rarely grabs the headlines, but the pollination of plants, trees and crops is a function which is vital both for human wellbeing and for the environment. While some pollination occurs as a result of the wind, the vast majority - especially that which matters most to humans - is carried out by insects.

Protecting Europe's crops and woodland from pests and pathogens

In the UK, Plant Health Officials are approving a newly developed portable DNA testing device for disease diagnosis. They are checking for ash dieback, the spore-borne disease caused by the fungus Chalara fraxinea which, according to the UK Forestry Commission, has infected more than 330 sites in the UK and resulted in the destruction of tens of thousands of young trees. A sample of infected bark is taken from an ash tree and prepared in a manner which can amplify and detect DNA from the organism. The result is available within minutes - rather than the days it would have taken if the sample had been sent for laboratory analysis. Since speed is of critical importance in diagnosing such disease outbreaks, this is a major step forward.

 

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