Americans like options, lots of them. A visit to an American supermarket, a mall, or an online outlet like Amazon reveals a bewildering array of choices.

Diversity extends beyond shopping. We see it throughout creation. There are millions of different molecules and millions of different species of life. None of the billions of galaxies or billions of billions of stars are the same. And when it comes to our planet—in particular the variety of plants and crops Earth sustains—that diversity testifies to purposeful creation.

A History of Biodiversity
Our planet’s diversity of life is mind-boggling. It has steadily increased throughout life’s history, but grew exponentially since the end of the Precambrian 543 million years ago. The total number of families (a family is a taxonomic rank between a genus and an order) of life increased from just a few to 280 during the early Cambrian, rose to 450 during the Ordovician Period 485–444 million years ago, reached 650 by the end of the Permian Period 252 million years ago, shot up to about 1,300 in the late Cretaceous Period 66–60 million years ago, and exploded to 2,400 by the advent of humanity.1

The 2,400 families consisted of 6.5 million land species and 2.2 million marine species.2 These 8.7 million species include only the eukaryotic life-forms (life based on cells with nuclei), a number equal to the maximum theoretical carrying capacity of Earth.

Biodiversity Benefits
The diversity of Earth’s life displays more than the implied extravagance of the Creator. Ecologists are uncovering multiple specific benefits of life diversity.

One recently discovered benefit concerns agricultural productivity. For centuries, farmers have presumed that crop specialization delivers maximum productivity. It is not uncommon, for example, to drive through Saskatchewan or Indiana and see family farms consisting of several sections of only wheat or only corn (one section = one square mile). Corporate farms typically are much larger and just as specialized. Such specialization has yielded more crops per hectare because the respective farmers need only to develop expertise on one crop.

However, two research studies have established that large-scale, intensified cultivation with crop specialization often results in soil and freshwater degradation, air pollution, excess greenhouse gas emissions, and ecosystem imbalances.3 In a recent issue of Science Advances an international team of seven biologists, environmentalists, and ecologists led by Giovanni Tamburini reported on their review of 98 meta-analyses that comprised 41,946 comparisons between multiple and single crop cultivation practices.4 They found that most of the analyses resulted in win-win solutions.

Tamburini’s team demonstrated that crop diversification in nearly all cases enhanced “biodiversity, pollination, pest control, nutrient recycling, soil fertility, and water regulation without compromising crop yields.”5 The enhancements were especially dramatic for nutrient recycling, soil fertility, and water regulation. Furthermore, Tamburini’s team showed that these win-win outcomes could be achieved at all farmsize scales and on all regional scales, from local to global. Plus, the crop diversity supplies an insurance benefit. An environmental disaster might cripple the productivity of one crop, but it is unlikely that six or more distinctly different crops would all simultaneously fail.

An independent team of seven other ecologists led by Andrew Barnes presented another biodiversity study in the same issue of Science Advances.6 Barnes’s team compiled 487 arthropod food webs in long-duration grassland biodiversity experiments in North America and Europe. (Arthropods form an animal phylum that includes insects, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, millipedes, and crustaceans.) They showed that “plants lose just under half as much energy to arthropod herbivores when in high-diversity mixtures versus monocultures.”7 In other words, twice as many crops survive insect infestation when farmers diversify crops. Their studies revealed at least two of the reasons for the reduced arthropod herbivory (consumption by insects): (1) increased plant biodiversity reduced the average herbivore food quality, and (2) increased plant diversity provided more opportunities for predators of arthropods.

Biodiversity Philosophical Implications
Neither Tamburini’s nor Barnes’s team commented on the philosophical implications of their findings. The most obvious is that a high level of biodiversity is essential for maintaining healthy ecosystem balances. Another is that because of Earth’s extreme biodiversity we humans need not choose between what is maximally beneficial for sustaining our food supply and what is maximally beneficial for sustaining the rest of Earth’s life. The millions of diverse species of life presently on Earth mean that we can fulfill all of the biblical mandate to manage Earth’s resources for our benefit and the benefit of all other life.

It is compelling to consider that at humanity’s advent, Earth contained the maximum carrying capacity of different species of lifeThis means that we humans see God’s creativity to a degree that should leave no doubt to any human who takes the time to explore Earth’s life that an all-powerful, all-loving God must exist. The beauty and elegance we see in Earth’s life testifies of God’s love for beauty and elegance. As the prophet Isaiah declares, “He [God] did not create it [Earth] to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18).” And as the psalmist shouts, “How many are your works, O Lord: In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures (Psalm 104:24).”

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @Reasons.org

Endnotes

  1. Michael J. Benton, “Diversification and Extinction in the History of Life,” Science 268, no. 5207 (April 7, 1995): 52–58, doi:10.1126/science.7701342.
  2. Camilo Mora et al., “How Many Species Are There on Earth and in the Ocean?” PLOS Biology 9, no. 8 (August 23, 2011): id. e1001127, doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001127.
  3. B. M. Campbell et al., “Agricultural Production as a Major Driver of the Earth System Exceeding Planetary Boundaries,” Ecology and Society 22, no. 4 (December 2017): article 8, doi:10.5751/ES-09595-220408; Alison G. Power, “Ecosystem Services and Agriculture: Tradeoffs and Synergies,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 365, no. 1554 (September 27, 2010): 2959–71, doi:10.1098/rstb.2010.0143.
  4. Giovanni Tamburini et al., “Agricultural Diversification Promotes Multiple Ecosystem Services without Compromising Yield,” Science Advances 6, no. 45 (November 4, 2020): id. eaba1715, doi:10.1126/sciadv.aba1715.
  5. Tamburini et al., “Agricultural Diversification,” p. 1.
  6. A. D. Barnes et al., “Biodiversity Enhances the Multitrophic Control of Arthropod Herbivory,” Science Advances 6, no. 45 (November 6, 2020): id. eabb6603, doi:10.1126/sciadv.abb6603.
  7. Barnes et al., “Biodiversity Enhances,” p. 1.

About The Author

Dr. Hugh Ross

Reasons to Believe emerged from my passion to research, develop, and proclaim the most powerful new reasons to believe in Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior and to use those new reasons to reach people for Christ. I also am eager to equip Christians to engage, rather than withdraw from or attack, educated non-Christians. One of the approaches I’ve developed, with the help of my RTB colleagues, is a biblical creation model that is testable, falsifiable, and predictive. I enjoy constructively integrating all 66 books of the Bible with all the science disciplines as a way to discover and apply deeper truths. 1 Peter 3:15–16 sets my ministry goal, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience." Hugh Ross launched his career at age seven when he went to the library to find out why stars are hot. Physics and astronomy captured his curiosity and never let go. At age seventeen he became the youngest person ever to serve as director of observations for Vancouver's Royal Astronomical Society. With the help of a provincial scholarship and a National Research Council (NRC) of Canada fellowship, he completed his undergraduate degree in physics (University of British Columbia) and graduate degrees in astronomy (University of Toronto). The NRC also sent him to the United States for postdoctoral studies. At Caltech he researched quasi-stellar objects, or "quasars," some of the most distant and ancient objects in the universe. Not all of Hugh's discoveries involved astrophysics. Prompted by curiosity, he studied the world’s religions and "holy books" and found only one book that proved scientifically and historically accurate: the Bible. Hugh started at religious "ground zero" and through scientific and historical reality-testing became convinced that the Bible is truly the Word of God! When he went on to describe for others his journey to faith in Jesus Christ, he was surprised to discover how many people believed or disbelieved without checking the evidence. Hugh's unshakable confidence that God's revelations in Scripture and nature do not, will not, and cannot contradict became his unique message. Wholeheartedly encouraged by family and friends, communicating that message as broadly and clearly as possible became his mission. Thus, in 1986, he founded science-faith think tank Reasons to Believe (RTB). He and his colleagues at RTB keep tabs on the frontiers of research to share with scientists and nonscientists alike the thrilling news of what's being discovered and how it connects with biblical theology. In this realm, he has written many books, including: The Fingerprint of God, The Creator and the Cosmos, Beyond the Cosmos, A Matter of Days, Creation as Science, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, and More Than a Theory. Between writing books and articles, recording podcasts, and taking interviews, Hugh travels the world challenging students and faculty, churches and professional groups, to consider what they believe and why. He presents a persuasive case for Christianity without applying pressure. Because he treats people's questions and comments with respect, he is in great demand as a speaker and as a talk-radio and television guest. Having grown up amid the splendor of Canada's mountains, wildlife, and waterways, Hugh loves the outdoors. Hiking, trail running, and photography are among his favorite recreational pursuits - in addition to stargazing. Hugh lives in Southern California with his wife, Kathy, and two sons.



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