As biodiversity declines, nature’s solutions are lost forever | Jobs Vox


United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, COP15, is scheduled to end on December 19. This weekend, we look at some of the ways in which humanity depends on biodiversity for a healthy and thriving global ecosystem.

When a species becomes extinct, it takes with it all the physical, chemical, biological, and behavioral characteristics that have been selected for that species, tested and tested in many thousands, and perhaps millions, of evolutionary experiments. after re-testing. years of development.

These include designs for heating, cooling and ventilation; To be able to move most effectively and efficiently through water or air; for energy production and storage; To create the strongest, lightest, most biodegradable and recyclable material possible; And for many, many other functions essential to life.

The value of nature is not limited to human applications, but the loss of nature and biodiversity represents a great loss to human potential as well.

Here are just a few examples of the ways nature has inspired engineering solutions.

Professor Akira Obata designs micro-wind turbines that generate electricity and rotate at speeds as low as 3 kilometers per hour, inspired by dragonfly wings
Professor Akira Obata designs micro-wind turbines that generate electricity and rotate at speeds as low as 3 kilometers per hour, inspired by dragonfly wings

dragonfly path

Inspired by the energy efficiency of dragonfly wings, especially at low wind speeds, Professor Akira Obata, formerly of Japan’s Nippon Bunri University, designed corrugated blades for micro-wind turbines, which accelerate wind speed. rotates and generates up to 3 kmph.

Most wind turbines perform poorly when the speed is less than 10 kilometers per hour; Some will not turn at all. By reducing minimum wind speed requirements, these micro-wind turbines can harness wind power in easily accessible locations such as rooftops and balconies, and the need for expensive towers to capture the high-speed winds found at high altitudes. does not happen.

By studying and understanding the aerodynamics of dragonfly flight, Obata was able to create affordable, lightweight, stable and efficient micro-wind turbines that can be used in off-grid locations in developing countries.

What is blacker than blacker?

Some butterflies, birds and spiders have evolved super black coloration achieved by a variety of complex light-trapping mechanisms that may lead to new energy-efficient designs for solar collection.

The micro- and nano-structures of surfaces strongly determine their light absorption or reflective properties. Understanding not only the structure of the pigments involved but also the microstructure and physics of these surfaces can be useful in designing more energy efficient systems for heating and cooling buildings and more productive solar energy collectors.

Namib Desert beetle (genus Stenocara) taking a bath in fog.  Namibia.
Namib Desert beetle (genus Stenocara) taking a bath in fog. Namibia.

‘heat of the fog’

Two species of beetles actively harvest water from fog with a behavioral sequence called ‘fog basking’. Late at night, before the nightly fog rolls in over coastal parts of the Namib Desert, the beetles emerge from the sand and climb dunes to position themselves in the path of the fog.

Tilting their bodies forward to face the fog, they collect moisture on their backs, which are made of hard forelimbs called elytra that cover their hind wings used for flight. and protect them.

Small water droplets in the fog collect there, forming larger droplets, which are carried by gravity across smooth hydrophobic (i.e. water-repelling) surfaces into the beetles’ mouths.

Given that WHO estimates that half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed environments by 2025, the specific chemistry and structure of hydrophobic surfaces found in Namib beetles have generated enormous scientific interest for their potential human applications. is of.

birds and fossil fuels

Gliding and flying birds are masters of aerodynamic efficiency and their wing-tip wing design inspired engineers to add small ‘wings’ that reduce drag caused by vortices at the tips of aircraft’s wings .

By copying this wing-tip design, commercial airlines have saved 10 billion gallons of fuel, reducing their CO2 emissions by 105 million tons per year.

To sequester this amount of carbon, about 16 million hectares of trees would need to be planted each year – an area larger than the area of ​​Norway or Japan.

Humpback whales feed in a bay in Antarctica.
Humpback whales feed in a bay in Antarctica.

Extinction is not a foregone conclusion

The doom of extinction is perhaps best highlighted by the near-extinction of the humpback whale.

Over-hunting nearly wiped out these giant creatures, one of the largest ever to have lived on the planet, and the humpback population dwindled to just 5,000 in 1966.

Conservation organizations and scientists inspired an enormous public and political outcry, and humpback whales recovered to an estimated 80,000 today. The humpback, uniquely, has bumpy ‘tubercles’ on the front of its flippers that enable these giants to maneuver with extraordinary agility.

The tubercles give the whales a hydrodynamic advantage – they reduce drag, increasing their ability to stay in motion and allow them to turn at sharp angles, important when attacking prey. This has inspired engineers to create the most efficient industrial fan blades and wind power generators, among other applications. If humpbacks had gone extinct, we would never have been able to take advantage of the tubercle design.

The extraordinary creatures shown above, along with the sustainable engineering designs they inspired, present a compelling case for why we should preserve biodiversity.

Organisms that form support systems make all life possible on Earth, including human life: millions of species are at risk, but losing even a single species could have enormous negative consequences for humanity.

The story is based on the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) booklet, How sustainable engineering solutions depend on biodiversity


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