The climate change presents itself as a growing threat to the conservation of the biodiversity. In the near future, the provision of multiple ecosystem services that are critical to human well-being could be compromised and, also, the achievement of most of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Despite the fact that the subterranean environment is the most widespread non-marine ecosystem on Earth (it is under 20% of the global surface), its percentage of overlap with protected areas is only 7%
To face this challenge, several global initiatives have been advanced halfway between science and politics to outline international agendas on biodiversity and climate change, beyond 2020. For example, the global safety net (Global Safety Net, in English) aims that 50% of the Earth is formally protected to stop the loss of biodiversity, reduce CO2 emissions and promote the elimination of carbon by nature.
Along the same lines, Biodiversity Strategy 2030 of the European Union is a mandatory long-term plan that aims to transform 30% of Europe’s lands and seas into protected areas, while driving economic development and climate mitigation. To be effective, these international agendas must consider how many more species Y ecosystems possible. However, in a letter published recently in the journal Nature Climate Change, there is a recurring omission: the half underground.
Despite the fact that this is probably the most widespread non-marine ecosystem on Earth (they are under 20% of the global surface), its percentage of overlap with protected areas is only 7%. The neglect of underground ecosystems in global conservation plans marginalizes their ecological and economic importance, as well as hampering the political will to protect them.
How important is the underground environment
Society typically recognizes the caves –Which represent only the fraction of the underground environment accessible to humans– for their inherent beauty and mystery, as well as for containing treasures of paleontological and archaeological materials. This is where our general understanding of the underground environment generally ends, but the importance of the underground environment goes much further.
It is time for underground ecosystems to take their rightful place in international strategies and agendas on climate change and conservation of global biodiversity
First, it is estimated that 95% of the supply of liquid fresh water available in the world is found in the underground environment and more than a quarter of the human population depends totally or partially on it.
Underground ecosystems are home to highly specialized organisms with impressive adaptations to living in the dark that are of great interest from both an evolutionary and conservation perspective. This biodiversity provides a series of services to humanity of incalculable value, for example, they participate in the pollination (cave bats), in the carbon renewal, the attenuation and degradation of dangerous pollutants, and can even eliminate viruses and pathogenic microorganisms.
In short, it seems that the aphorism “eyes that do not see, heart that does not feel” has so far directed both scientific interest and political decisions. Coincidentally, 2021 is the International Year of Caves and Karst. Given their importance, it is time for underground ecosystems to take their rightful place in international strategies and agendas on climate change and conservation of global biodiversity.
David Sánchez-Fernández He is a researcher in the Department of Ecology and Hydrology of the University of Murcia and main author of the letter published in Nature Climate Change.
Rights: Creative Commons.