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Biodiversity in Japan

Due to Japan’s varied climate and terrain, wildlife is incredible abundant in the relatively small country. Over 90,000 animal species have been confirmed in Japan – plants thrive in the fertile soil resulting from frequent volcanic activity and river flooding. This plant biodiversity results in succession which allows an extensive chain of consumers to be supported, resulting in complex food webs.

The large variety of habitats can cause geographical isolation of communities of organisms – this is a fantastic accelerator for speciation (the formation of new species) as the isolation results in animals having to adapt to new and changing environments. Furthermore, the occurrence of natural disasters can result in the founder effect and genetic drift which is when small populations of organisms separate from the larger populations, resulting in inbreeding and the introduction/increase in abundance of new alleles (variants of genes) by chance. The changing allele frequency can, over time, result in new species developing.

Japan is also home to many endemic species (species which can only be found in Japan). Approximately 40% of terrestrial mammals and vascular plants are endemic and around 80% of amphibians. The conservation of this biodiverse area is important in terms of sustainability and for the future of medicine and genetics. It is also vital for maintaining food webs and ecosystems and hence many conservation methods are being implemented. For example, some plants are cloned in laboratories by tissue culture in order to rapidly expand the population sizes of endangered species. Some endangered animals are kept and bred in captivity to reduce their susceptibility to external factors such as disease, hunting and competition.

Ultimately, one major factor which contributes to the extinction of species in Japan and across the rest of the world is climate change. The rapidly changing temperatures and climate results in many animals being unable to adapt at a rate which matches the rate in which the Earth is changing. Therefore, one of the key ways to protect the biodiversity of these incredible ecosystems is for each of us individually to do our part in combatting climate change.

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