- Tuesday 3 March is the UN’s World Wildlife Day.
- The theme for this year’s event is Sustaining all life on Earth.
- Nature helps balance ecosystems and benefits the climate and the economy.
Scientists at London’s Natural History Museum discovered more than 270 new species in 2018, from living plants, frogs and beetles to extinct varieties of wombat, shark and dinosaur.
But while those new species were being identified, there were some notable losses too. The wild population of the northern white rhino lost its last surviving male. The Spix's Macaw, a bright blue parrot from South America, is believed to be extinct in the wild.
It’s a reminder of the staggering diversity of the natural world, and that humankind has a responsibility to the countless other lifeforms we share our planet with – our actions have consequences, and these can either be supportive or destructive.
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The UN’s World Wildlife Day celebrates this importance of plants and animals to the planet. The theme for this year’s event, on Tuesday 3 March, is Sustaining all life on Earth.
To mark the occasion, here are five remarkable things nature is doing for us.
1. Beavers are having a big impact in Britain
When wild beavers were reintroduced to parts of the UK they soon started to have a positive effect on their local environment. By cutting down trees and building dams, they have helped to limit the effects of localized flooding. The holes they dig in and around the waterside have become a habitat for other creatures too.
2. Whales are helping in the fight against climate change
The world needs to do more to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and oceans. Technology to absorb carbon is one potential option. We could plant more trees. And scientists think putting additional efforts into saving whales could have a big impact too – they say a single whale captures more CO2 in its lifetime than 1,000 trees. And what’s more, whales support the growth of phytoplankton, which store huge amounts of carbon.
3. Farmers are using ducks instead of pesticides
Who needs chemicals when you have hungry ducks? In many parts of the world, such as France and Japan, ducks are used as a natural form of pest control. They are regularly found in rice paddies, for example, eating their way through insects that infest the crops.
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4. Dogs are sniffing out disease in citrus crops
The Asian citrus psyllid is devastating orange trees around the world, spreading a bacterial disease that stops the fruit from ripening and eventually kills the tree. “It’s like a cancer. One that’s metastasized, and can’t be eradicated or cured,” says Tim Gottwald, plant pathologist at the US Department of Agriculture. Trained sniffer dogs can spot the smell of the infection much faster than any other method, thanks to super-sensitive noses that are perfectly adapted for picking up unusual odours.
5. Coral reefs are keeping ocean ecosystems alive
Coral reefs support a huge amount of marine life, offering protection from strong waves as well as from predators. They also contribute $172 billion to the global economy, and the sea life they support helps feed 1 billion people. But they are also endangered. Warming waters have led to the bleaching of as much as 90% of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.