Biodiversity is the variation of life forms within a specific species, ecosystem or the entirety of earth. Nobody knows the exact level of biodiversity on our planet, but around 1.75 million life forms (plants, animals, fungi, bacteria) have been identified. Biodiversity is a measure of the health of ecosystems with greater biodiversity often implying greater health.
Biodiversity is usually identified on three levels. The first, genetic diversity focuses on the genetic variation among individuals of the same species. The second, species diversity, focuses on the variation among species in a particular ecosystem. The third, ecosystem diversity, focuses on the variation among the different ecosystems found on earth.
Benefits of Biodiversity
Building block of economy: All economies are dependent on local, national, or international biodiversity, whether it is a local or global fishing industry, the building industry that relies on timber, rubber, oil, fibers, dyes and adhesives, a local grocery store for food products, or a national park for tourism.
Medicines: Biodiversity ensures the vast numbers of unexamined plant species will continue to exist as potential sources of new drugs.
Foods: About 80% of our food supply comes from only 20 different kinds of plants. Biodiversity ensures the potential for a far greater range of food products and ensures individual food crops do not go extinct.
Ecological Services: Biodiversity ensures that biological matter is recycled, producing nutrient rich soil necessary for agriculture, helps regulate the chemistry of our atmosphere and water supply, and prevents or mitigates natural disasters such as landslides or floods.
Leisure, Cultural and Aesthetic Value: Biodiversity increases the value of activities such as hiking, bird watching and camping.
Growing human populations, urban development, clearing forests, climate change, pollution, unsustainable harvesting of natural resources, agriculture, dams, international conflict, poverty, and the introduction of non-native species are all causes of global biodiversity loss. The most powerful technique in protecting biodiversity is to preserve habitat whether in the form of a protected area or in your own backyard garden.
Biodiversity in Georgia
The Caucasus region – including Georgia – is an important reservoir of biodiversity, and considered a globally significant ‘biodiversity hotspot’ based on the richness of species, and level of endemism, recorded. The reason for the diversity found in Georgia is due to its location (at the juncture of two major biogeographic regions), the land form (the peninsula between the Black and Caspian Seas provides an important migration route and fly way), the topography of the landscape (with great variations in altitudes, and opportunities for isolation) and the climate (which varies significantly across the country, resulting in various habitats – from sub-tropical drylands and dry forests, to mountain tundra). See Appendix A & B for a list of Georgian Ecosystems and Endangered Species.
Establishment of protected areas is one of the most important instruments for biodiversity conservation. The first nature reserve in Georgia was established in 1912 in Lagodekhi and currently there are 50 protected areas covering 7.1% of the territory of Georgia. Although the primary function of protected areas is to ensure biodiversity conservation, they also have important scientific research and socio-economic value for the country, especially for recreation and the development of national and international tourism.
Covering 40% of the country, or 2.77 million hectares, Georgia’s forests are another national treasure. All forests of Georgia are state property and critically important for their environmental, economic, cultural, scientific, and recreational value. An estimated 500,000 ha are primary forests, 2,200,000 ha are secondary forests and 60,000 ha are protected artificial plantations. Forests in Georgia are distributed unevenly, with several regions rich in forests and others scarcely forested.
Importance of Georgia’s Forests
The forests of Georgia are critical for biodiversity conservation, harboring many endemic and relic species of woody plants and herbs, and providing habitats for globally rare and endangered animals such as bat species, the brown bear, wild goat and the Caucasian red deer. Endemic invertebrates such as the Caucasian running beetle and Beech snail are only found in forest ecosystems.
In addition to their high value to biodiversity conservation, the forests make an important contribution to national sustainable development and sustainable rural livelihoods. For example Georgia’s forests provide:
…..• Industrial wood for domestic and export markets, in particular construction and furniture.
…..• Non-wood forest products including nuts, berries and mushrooms.
…..• Medicinal plants.
…..• Tree seeds, in particular Abies nordmaniana, an important source of income in rural economies.
…..• Areas for hunting and grazing cattle, goats, sheep and pigs.
…..• Tourism and recreation.
…..• Environmental services such as watershed protection and prevention of soil erosion, which makes a substantial invisible contribution to the rural and national economy.
Endangered Species in Georgia
Georgia is also a country facing a biodiversity crisis. Many plant and animal species in Georgia are threatened or endangered, including 29 mammal, 35 bird, 11 reptile, 2 amphibian, 14 fish and 56 woody plant species on the national Red List of Georgian Endangered Species. In addition, 44 vertebrates are globally endangered and included on the IUCN Red List. Large mammal populations are especially endangered. In the past century, the Goitered gazelle and the southern population of wild goat became extinct in Georgia. The leopard, striped hyena, and red deer now exist only as isolated individuals or populations in protected areas. Since the 1990s, the East Caucasian Tur population has decreased by 20 and the West Caucasian population by 50% and the number of sturgeon species in the Black Sea has decreased at least 37%.
Threats to Biodiversity in Georgia
The primary threats to biodiversity in Georgia include:
…..• Degradation of habitats and loss of endangered species due to ineffective and illegal grazing, logging, hunting and fishing practices.
…..• Ineffective or incomplete management (tracking, enforcement and mitigation), data collection and knowledge of Georgian biodiversity.
…..• Weak management of the forests and protected areas and gaps in the protected areas network.
…..• Exploitation of forests for development, timber and firewood.
…..• Encroachment of non-native and invasive species, particularly fish species.
…..• The Black Sea faces species decline, lose of coastal habitat, and poor water quality.
Action Activities to Increase Georgian Biodiversity
- Study birds using GTZ curriculum.
- Watch MoE biodiversity video and hold discussion.
- Hold a community or school tree planting celebration.
- Hold a community Earth Day to celebrate local animals or habitat.
- Build a school wildlife, butterfly, or medicinal plant garden.
- Take a ECO Club or school field trip to a local protected area or forest.
- Host an environmental play about endangered species in your community.
- Hold a community discussion and debate around a biodiversity issue in the community such as overgrazing, overhunting, overfishing, or ecotourism.
- Make posters to educate people about the importance of local plants or animals.
- Volunteer at a local NGO working on biodiversity issues or with a local protected area.
- Monitor wildlife in your community and track changes.
Detailed Action Activities
- Guide to Planting Trees
- Wildlife Monitoring
- ECO Plays
…..• Food Chain