The term “pollution” is frequently used in reference to environmental effects.
Although the term “pollution” is most usually used to refer to air or water, it actually refers to any type of pollutant that enters the ecosystem and has an unintended impact.
The bulk of pollution will, in fact, negatively impact wildlife, either directly (such as when they breathe in dangerous compounds from the air) or indirectly (e.g habitat loss due to climate change caused by an increase in certain air pollutants).
Air pollution, water pollution, plastic pollution, soil pollution, light pollution, and noise pollution are all forms of pollution that may have an impact on wildlife.
In this article, I will cover the effects of pollution on biodiversity, we will look at the types of pollution and how it is affecting biodiversity.
What is Biodiversity?
Biodiversity is the variety of animals, plants, fungi, and even microorganisms like bacteria that make up our natural environment. These various species and critters collaborate in complicated web-like ecosystems to keep things in balance and support life.
Everything in nature that we require for survival, including food, fresh water, medicines, and shelter, is supported by biodiversity. The diversity of living organisms on Earth, including plants, animals, microbes, and fungi, is referred to as biodiversity.
The Earth’s biodiversity is so diverse that many species are still undiscovered, but because of human actions, many species are facing extinction, endangering the Earth’s amazing biodiversity.
16 Effects of Pollution on Biodiversity
How does pollution affect biodiversity? let’s get to know the effect of different types of pollution on biodiversity.
1. Air Pollution
Any material that is suspended in the air and has the potential to harm both human health and the larger ecology is considered an air pollutant.
This may consist of gases that are imperceptible to human sights, such as ammonia or carbon dioxide, or it may consist of solid particles, such as dust or soot from a coal-fired power plant.
These pollutants can have an immediate impact on health owing to inhalation or they can have an indirect influence on biodiversity by changing the overall environmental conditions.
Air pollution can be direct or indirect but will certainly lead to the following outcomes.
- Respiratory Conditions
- Breeding Success
- Climate Change
- Acid Rain
For direct effects,
- Respiratory Conditions
- Breeding Success
1. Respiratory Conditions
In one study, caged birds were kept adjacent to an operational coal-fired power station to examine the direct effects of air pollution.
Nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide, two contaminants included in the power plant emissions were found to harm and impact the bird’s respiratory system.
Other research going back to the 1950s has discovered recurrently harmful health consequences on birds from air pollution, including a decline in egg-laying success and behavioral alterations.
2. Breeding Success
It has been established that excessive levels of air pollution harm several animal species in urban areas.
According to a study conducted in Sao Paulo, Brazil, mice’s ability to reproduce less successfully when kept in cages near smoggy urban areas.
It is plausible to expect that other species will also be negatively impacted by air pollution if these effects are shown in these categories of animals. As a result of the disruption of food chains, biodiversity as a whole is likely to suffer.
The indirect effects of air pollution on biodiversity are more difficult to evaluate precisely because they are more difficult to test over an extended length of time in a controlled environment.
- Climate Change
- Acid Rain
Several air contaminants are referred to as “greenhouse gases.” This is due to their role in the greenhouse effect, which creates a layer in the atmosphere of the Earth that retains heat from the sun that would otherwise escape.
Carbon dioxide (CO2), which several sources, including power plants and jet engines, is the most well-known of these pollutants.
Although CO2 is a naturally occurring gas in the atmosphere, human activities have dramatically raised the amounts, especially since the industrial revolution a little over a century ago.
Nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4) are two other air pollutants that are greenhouse gases, and while they are not as common or persist as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2), they are considerably better at trapping heat.
Since the beginning of time, the earth’s climate has been changing as a result of natural temperature oscillations brought on by changes in solar activity and other occurrences.
However, this most recent alteration brought about by humans is happening quite quickly. This means that biodiversity is being impacted since plants and animals cannot adapt rapidly enough.
According to a UK study, 275 out of 329 species of animals had physically relocated to regions with cooler average temperatures.
Even though research into the possible scope of the repercussions is still ongoing, this could have a wide range of implications.
Researchers are actively examining how climate change may affect biodiversity. Coral reefs are “bleaching” as a result of rising ocean temperatures.
Coral bleaches when the internal algae in its tissues are expelled. These corals are far more likely to die even though they aren’t quite dead.
Since corals serve as the habitat for thousands of marine species, including fish and crustaceans, this has an impact on biodiversity more broadly. Studies have linked the loss in fish variety to these coral bleaching occurrences.
4. Acid Rain
Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, two prevalent air pollutants, react with atmospheric water to generate a weak acid. The term “acid rain” refers to the acidic rain that falls when it rains.
It is easiest to see how acid rain affects biodiversity in rivers, lakes, and other aquatic environments.
Fish with larger gills may produce more acidic water is more acidic. As a result, they are unable to take in as much oxygen, which causes the fish to suffocate.
In soils that have been subjected to acid rain, several studies have discovered a decline in microbial activity. The effects of affecting the smallest lifeforms are likely up the food chain.
2. Water Pollution
A large portion of life on earth spends all or part of its time in the water. Whether it be a lake, a stream, or the ocean. Since humans are land-based animals, you’d think the sea would be a secure environment, but sadly, that’s not the case.
All forms of natural water bodies are susceptible to human pollution in a variety of ways, which is likely to have detrimental effects on biodiversity.
- Nitrogen and Phosphorus contamination
- Heavy Metals
- Plastic Contamination
- Larger Plastics
- Transport of Invasive Species
1. Nitrogen and Phosphorus contamination
Common pollutants that wind up in rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water include phosphorus and nitrogen. These contaminants generally come from manure and chemical fertilizers that are sprayed on fields to promote crop growth.
Any nitrogen and phosphorus that the crop plants are unable to absorb is either washed away into different waterways or finds its way into groundwater.
The majority of this pollution is caused by the livestock industry; in Europe, 73% of the water contamination from these sources may be linked to livestock production.
It should come as no surprise that these nutrients cause plants in the water to grow far more quickly than they do on land.
As a result, the excessive development of aquatic plants starts to have negative impacts, a process known as “eutrophication.” Asia now has eutrophic lakes in 54% of all lakes.
The current environment is not favorable for thriving biodiversity. The new plants raise oxygen levels during the day, but at night, aquatic microbes gorge on plant matter and sharply reduce oxygen levels.
This is bad news for fish and other creatures like shrimp that rely on dissolved oxygen to breathe since many of them end up dying off in areas that are known as “dead zones.”
Similar to the above-mentioned pathways for fertilizers, pesticides can enter waterways if improperly applied.
90% of water and fish samples from American waters were positive for one or more pesticides, according to studies from the mid-1990s. Chlorpyrifos is a typical urban stream contaminant that is toxic to fish in the US.
While other pesticides like trifluralin and glyphosate, which are frequently found in ordinary garden weedkillers, may not directly kill fish, they can reduce their chances of surviving, which can have an influence on the population as a whole.
For non-flowing water bodies like ponds and lakes, where the chemicals aren’t washed away and where wildlife can’t rapidly repopulate areas, the effects of pesticides on biodiversity typically tend to be severe.
3. Heavy Metals
Water contaminated by heavy metals can come from a variety of sources, including mining, automobiles, and cement manufacturing. Mercury, arsenic, and cadmium are examples of heavy metals.
Once in the environment, these metals do not break down quickly. It has been discovered that certain metals affect the behavior and survival rates of several fish species.
Although oil enters the water from a variety of sources, huge “oil spill” events have the greatest effects on wildlife.
This typically occurs when a ship carrying oil across the ocean spills a significant portion of the cargo, devastating the ecosystem.
Although birds and larger animals exhibit the most obvious effects of such an occurrence, experts believe the deleterious effects on life in the deeper oceans are what have a greater influence on biodiversity.
Several factors can affect how oil spills affect marine life:
- Physical obstruction of the gills and air passages results in asphyxia.
- Internal harm from oil’s harmful effects, including damage to critical organs, rendering animals unable to find food or notice predators
- Slower development rates and greater larval mortality.
5. Plastic Contamination
The obvious, observable effects of plastic pollution have made it one of the most talked-about types of pollution in recent years.
Because it can be molded into almost any shape and lasts a very long time, plastic is an excellent material. But because of this, once it pollutes the environment, it stays there for a very long time and affects species.
Although it starts on land, plastic eventually makes its way into rivers and the ocean when it is blown into storm drains or washed away during floods.
6. Larger Plastics
Turtles are one group of creatures that are particularly vulnerable to plastics. Young turtles that absorb the plastics and are unable to vomit them sometimes suffer internal ailments and even die as a result.
Seabirds in particular are quite endangered. In one study, it was discovered that 40% of Laysan albatross chicks died before leaving the nest. The bulk of the victims had swallowed plastic garbage, it was discovered during the postmortem investigation.
Although plastics do eventually degrade, these smaller pieces, or “microplastics,” can still be quite harmful.
One study on sea urchins discovered that the toxicity of microplastics was reducing the number of larvae that were able to survive.
A variety of additional studies have implicated microplastics for consequences on other animals including decreased food consumption and weight loss.
8. Transport of Invasive Species
Finally, floating plastics in the ocean can act as “rafts” for organisms to travel great distances.
This means that species that are not endemic to a given location might be introduced to the habitat and outcompete the native species, altering the local biodiversity.
Research is still being done on how plastics affect biodiversity as a whole. But we may infer that this will eventually have an impact on global biodiversity from effects on specific species (as described above).
3. Soil Pollution
- Heavy Metals
- Agricultural Pollutants
1. Heavy Metals
Heavy metal pollution damages soils as well as aquatic environments, where it persists for a very long time.
The health of microorganisms like bacteria and fungi, which are necessary for life to exist, can be impacted by these heavy metals.
Some of these metals are needed by plants at small levels, while larger amounts have detrimental effects. The plants are unable to break down the metals because they are absorbed from the soil.
2. Agricultural Pollutants
Particularly as agriculture has become more industrialized and intensive, fertilizers, pesticides, and antibiotics from animal feces can end up in the soil.
The pH and amounts of soil nutrients can be changed by too much nitrogen from fertilizers. Soils nearby or where crops have been grown become significantly more acidic and nutrient-rich.
The growth of wildflowers, which are crucial for bees and other pollinating insects, is sometimes stifled as a result of higher nitrogen levels, which favor the growth of more robust grass species. The overall biodiversity is impacted by this.
Despite being strictly regulated in many parts of the world, pesticides are still not well-regulated everywhere.
4. Light Pollution
When it comes to pollution, “light” may not be the first thing that springs to mind, yet artificial light can have a detrimental effect on biodiversity.
Numerous creatures have evolved to be nocturnal. hunting or moving about in the darkness with nothing save the light of the moon or stars. But to extend their useful hours, people have flooded the night sky with artificial lighting.
This has resulted in street lights on all highways, blazing office building lights, and blinding car headlights.
One group of species that are known to be negatively impacted by light pollution is the bat family. An extremely nocturnal animal, bats hardly ever come out into the daylight.
When artificial lighting was present, it was discovered that bat feeding activity drastically decreased and that bats emerged from their roosts later.
As a result, the bats have less time to look for food and are forced into fewer habitat patches where there is more competition from other animals.
It was discovered that streetlights affect moth behavior. Moths are key pollinators of many plant species in addition to being important prey for other species.
The variety of species decreased by 62% in one study of nocturnal insects in alpine meadows.
4. Noise Pollution
With the growth in population and urbanization, there has also been an increase in noise pollution from a variety of sources.
One study discovered that highway traffic noise was hindering the success of birds in noisy locations, where females started laying fewer eggs because it obscures the vital territorial calls birds make.
According to a compilation of numerous studies on the effects of noise on animals, adverse effects can be felt at noise levels as low as 50dBA, or the volume of a typical conversation.
It was discovered that the noise from machinery at a mining site in Brazil affected wildlife. The number of species decreased at locations closer to the mine and increased farther away.
People-caused pollution can be found almost everywhere in the world and takes on the various forms described below.
The exact extent of many of these contaminants’ impacts on biodiversity is still being studied, but given the sharp declines in their numbers over the past few decades, the picture does not seem promising.
We can debate whether certain contaminants have a complete influence on biodiversity as a whole; for instance, certain species may rebound once pollutants are eliminated. But relying solely on that tactic is dangerous.
The truth is that even a single species or small group of microbes can have an impact on an ecosystem and throw everything out of equilibrium.
The term “biodiversity” emphasizes the value of the variety of life forms on Earth and the significance of each interaction. Before it’s too late, we need to work on improving.
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A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
Let's see how we can mitigate these problems together.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.