The headlines of most major publications around the world that are reporting on the devastating wildfires that continue to plague Australia have been since the very beginning largely focused on a loss of biodiversity and a threat to ecosystems. The number of human lives lost is reported with great sadness, but the emphasis over the past five months on the mass death of wildlife has been of major concern, with the image of thirsty koala bears and burnt kangaroos etched into our collective minds. But what does a loss of biodiversity and a threat to ecosystems really mean, and how are these scientific terms relevant to the discussion on the long-term global effects of climate change?
Fundamentally, the function of an ecosystem is to maintain a balanced exchange of energy and nutrients in the food chain. These exchanges sustain plant and animal life on the planet and are responsible for the necessary decomposition of organic matter and for energy production.1 The ecosystem serves society’s everyday needs and supports life. We rely on our ecosystems to, among other things, purify the air we breathe, sequester carbon to regulate our climate, cycle nutrients so we can access clean water and pollinate our crops. There is, therefore, a direct correlation between our increased dependence on healthy ecosystems and growth in the world’s population. As the population of the world continues to grow, so does our dependence on healthy ecosystems to provide the necessities essential to our survival.2