The Practical Side of Biodiversity

We were impressed by this article from the Ranching for Profit blog, and thought it worthy of republishing.

I once asked ranching consultant Gregg Simonds, if there were only three things he could measure to evaluate the health of rangelands, what they would be.  He responded: 1. Cover, 2. Cover, and 3. Biodiversity.  Gregg wasn’t being facetious when he listed the top two criteria as cover.  There are several types of cover (soil cover, basal cover, canopy cover, etc.).  I never did pin Gregg down on which he thought were most important, but regardless of the type, cover is reasonably easy to measure and I think most of us can appreciate its importance.

It is harder to understand or appreciate the importance of biodiversity.  Biodiversity refers to the variety of plants, animals and microorganisms, the genes they contain and the ecosystems they form.  Genetic diversity is critical to maintaining the viability of populations within species.  Species diversity is vital for several reasons, not the least of which are the many interactive effects among organisms. For example, one gram of forest soil may have over 4,000 different species of bacteria.  The interaction of some of these bacteria with roots is essential for the vigorous growth of some commercial timber species.  Some of these bacteria are dispersed by voles, mice, insects and other creatures we normally think of as pests. In the absence of the microbes the trees don’t grow as rapidly and are more susceptible to disease and pollution.   How important are these rarely seen and easily forgotten organisms to the productivity of the forest and, therefore, the jobs in the timber industry?  That’s hard to quantify but it isn’t a stretch to see the relationship.  

We will never know or understand all of the relationships between organisms in a community. We do know that when we lose diversity, communities are more susceptible to disease out breaks, weed infestations and pest problems.  Diversity also plays a role in the ability of an ecosystem to function during and following severe environmental events like droughts. 

Cell grazing, which promotes root growth and creates habitat for desirable microbes in the soil, is just one of the many things we can do as ranchers to increase biodiversity on our properties.  Avoiding excess fertilization and the use of toxic chemicals also tend to maintain or increase biodiversity. There are several things we can do to enhance habitat for wildlife that increase diversity.  Wildlife waterers, like the ones I saw on Curtis Rankin’s ranch are a terrific example.  To see a video of the waterers that Curtis installs every time he puts in a tank for his cattle click here.    

In the long run, ecology and economics are inseparable.  In fact, I think of them as one in the same: eco-nomics or econ-ology.  In past editions of ProfitTips, I’ve written about many Ranching For Profit School alumni who used their knowledge to drastically increase their carrying capacity without spending money on herbicides or fertilizers (which tend to decrease biodiversity) or seeding.  What they feel for their land is probably not unique among ranchers. What they had that most of their neighbors didn’t was a deeper understanding of ecosystem processes and tools like cell grazing. The results we see consistently are more cover, more cover and more biodiversity.

To view the original blog post, click here.