Preserving biodiversity helps fight pandemics

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When I was walking around our neighborhood in suburban Shanghai at dusk last week, a strange creature the size of a kitten caught my eye. He tried to climb up a sidewalk, but fell halfway each time.

I rushed to him and picked him up with a fallen twig. I discovered that it was a young hedgehog with a thin layer of quills covering its tender back. He “conquered” the sidewalk with my help and made his way through a lush lawn to the bank of a river that surrounds our residential community.

It was my first encounter with a hedgehog. This pleasant experience has reinforced my positive feelings towards the environment in which I live.

Wang Yong / SHINE

An agricultural landscape near the author’s residential community in the Qingpu district of western Shanghai.

Preserving biodiversity helps fight pandemics

Wang Yong / SHINE

Zoom on the rural wetland conducive to biodiversity.

Our community, like many other newly built suburban communities, is surrounded by wetlands including forests, lakes, rivers and farmland. The river that surrounds our district passes through many idyllic villages and ecological corridors before joining the 62 square kilometer Dianshan Lake, which lies at the heart of one of Shanghai’s most important wetlands in the upper course of the river. Huangpu.

The unusual appearance of a hedgehog in a normal residential area like mine could be due to fewer human footprints during the city’s lockdown. But, at its core, it’s about the city’s ever-improving biological diversity, largely thanks to the constant expansion or restoration of wetlands. According to local wildlife authorities, wetlands are now one of the most important sources of biodiversity in Shanghai.

A recent article from the United Nations commemorating this year’s International Day for Biodiversity, May 22, claimed that biodiversity “is often understood in terms of the wide variety of plants, animals and micro-organisms, but it also includes …the variety of ecosystems…” are defined by the United Nations as ecosystems in which water is the primary factor controlling the environment and the associated plant and animal life.

Wetlands encompass both freshwater and marine ecosystems, including all lakes and rivers, underground aquifers, swamps and marshes, wet meadows, as well as all man-made sites such as fish ponds , rice fields, reservoirs and salt marshes.

Indeed, the entire Qingpu district in western Shanghai, where I live, “thrives thanks to wetlands,” according to a recent report by Xinmin Weekly. According to the United Nations, wetlands are home to 40% of all plant and animal species, although they cover only about 6% of the Earth’s land surface. Therefore, wetland biodiversity is important to our health and our food supply.

I moved from downtown Shanghai to Qingpu District in 2012. Many polluting factories, such as plastic processing factories, have been closed over the past decade. In their place, vast wetlands made up of farmland, forests and water bodies have emerged and expanded, encircling a growing number of residential neighborhoods and business districts.

Preserving biodiversity helps fight pandemics

Wang Yong / SHINE

A view of the Great Lotus Lake wetland. The photo was taken over a year ago.

Preserving biodiversity helps fight pandemics

Wang Yong / SHINE

A waterborne fir forest in the Great Lotus Lake wetland

The Great Lotus Lake wetland, about 2 kilometers from Dianshan Lake, is a model project in Qingpu’s efforts to restore biodiversity-friendly natural habitats. After years of restoration, it has finally become Shanghai’s only wetland-themed natural park, which features a unique fir forest and large organic farms that use frogs as natural pest killers.

Given the momentum of wetland restoration in Qingpu District, some wild animals appeared before the current lockdown – even before the pandemic outbreak in late 2019.

I’ve seen raccoon dogs in our neighborhood several times over the past three or four years, for example. They walked around at night and often crossed the main road in our neighborhood, even though people were walking around.

Raccoon dogs are not “intruders” into our suburban lives. “These are real ‘aboriginal people’ here,” Wang Fang, a professor of life sciences at Fudan University, said in a recent interview.

“They come back because our environment has improved.”

According to The Paper, a major Shanghai-based media outlet, these wild raccoon dogs were mostly found wandering or inhabiting newly built neighborhoods in the outlying districts of Qingpu, Songjiang and Minhang, where many residents live near farmland or of undeveloped land.

In many cases, forests and water bodies connect agricultural landscapes and undeveloped areas. They are part of a larger wetland system that gives many wild animals and plants more places to live and more ways to live.

Preserving biodiversity helps fight pandemics

Wang Yong / SHINE

A wetland ecosystem in the heart of Qingpu District

Preserving biodiversity helps fight pandemics

Wang Yong / SHINE

A woman and her granddaughter play with water grass in a wetland near a residential area in the central part of Qingpu district.

While Great Lotus Lake Wetland in Qingpu District exemplifies Shanghai’s efforts to restore wetlands in inner city areas, Yingwuzhou Wetland Ecological Park in Jinshan District exemplifies the success of city ​​in increasing the biodiversity of wetlands on the south coast of the city.

Chen Xuechu, a professor of ecological and environmental sciences at East China Normal University, is one of the masterminds behind the ecological restoration of the coastal wetland park.

“The park is like nature’s theater, allowing nearby residents to appreciate wildlife more closely, while effectively restoring biodiversity along the coastal beach,” he said in a documentary aired on Tuesday. May 22 on the occasion of the International Day for Biodiversity.

The 230,000 square meter coastal wetland, which is the size of 33 standard football stadiums, was completed and opened to the public in 2017. Its success in restoring biodiversity goes beyond attracting a growing number of wild animals. In a recent in-depth report, The Paper cited an article in Nature, the world’s largest science magazine, praising “the well-maintained wetland that sucks up more carbon than a natural marsh.” The Yingwuzhou project is called “the maintained wetland”.

The current city lockdown has prevented me from conducting additional field research in Yingwuzhou or the Great Lotus Lake area, but I was able to visit rice fields surrounded by shallow rivers and shaded by massive trees on Wednesday. near my residential community. Squirrels and swallows scurrying here and there “greeted” me there. The freshly cut rapeseed stalks that had been put in the fields as “green manure” gave off a light and lingering odor.

Preserving biodiversity helps fight pandemics

Wang Yong / SHINE

A diversity of plants and crops in a village surrounded by water across from a residential community

Back in my neighborhood, common blackbirds and Chinese bulbuls chirped happily throughout the lockdown, soothing us with the sounds of nature. It’s wetland diversity at work right outside my door.

Shanghai is rich in wetland resources, according to the National Forestry and Grassland Administration, with nearly 500,000 hectares of wetlands. It aims to increase its forest cover to 23 percent by 2035, from around 19 percent currently. The city’s biodiversity will benefit from this effort and the city’s ongoing campaign to beautify agricultural landscapes.

Wetlands, as the United Nations points out, are essential for humans, other ecosystems and our climate. Biodiversity loss could spread zoonoses – diseases passed from animals to humans – while preserving biodiversity provides excellent tools to fight pandemics such as those caused by the coronavirus.

“Let’s hope we don’t end up in a world where we believe modern mechanics can replace the infinitely advanced functions of nature,” says Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, professor of conservation biology at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. and author of “Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects.”

She certainly thinks way beyond insects.

Preserving biodiversity helps fight pandemics

Wang Yong / SHINE

Birds fly over a residential community.

Preserving biodiversity helps fight pandemics

Wang Yong / SHINE

A wetland at Zhongbu Village, one of the most beautiful villages in China. It’s about three miles from the author’s neighborhood. The photo was taken a year ago.

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