Are there effects on biodiversity due to air pollution?

The below article talks about air pollution, air quality, biodiversity, how air pollution affects biodiversity, along with some frequently asked questions about air pollution and its impacts on biodiversity. 

Are there effects on biodiversity due to air pollution?

Yes, over the years there has been severe impacts on biodiversity due to mindless anthropological activities. These activities have driven various species of plants and animals to near extinction, and still is poses a major threat to their survival. Biodiversity all over the world have been effected by air, water, and land pollution, and each of these has had different impacts on different ecosystems, depending on the degree of severity of the actions conducted around them. It is crucial to know that biodiversity is very important to our sustenance and it hangs by a thread, an imbalance could cause threats of extinction of all species, including humans. 

Air Pollution

Air pollution refers to the combination of the air quality from any physical, chemical, or biological component that has the capability to alter the natural properties of the atmosphere around us. There are varying sources of air pollution such as the burning of fossil fuels, burning of waste, factory emissions, environmental disasters such as wildfires, etc. Airborne pollutants come under 5 categories, namely:

  • Particulate Matter (PM2.5 and PM10)
  • Ozone
  • Carbon monoxide 
  • Nitrogen dioxide 
  • Sulfur dioxide

Air pollution has severe impacts on human health and can lead to acute and chronic diseases from skin irritations or cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. WHO estimates that every year, approximately 7 million people die from effects as a result of air pollution, and has reported that almost 99% of the world’s population lives in areas that exceed that global guidelines for air quality; especially low and middle-income developing countries. Air pollution has been an increasing threat to humanity and the environment since the industrial revolution, and the world governments and global communities have been trying to enforce varying kinds of strategies to address these issues. 

WHO estimates that 4.2 million deaths every year can be directly attributed towards after-effects of prolonged exposure to poor outdoor air quality and 3.8 million deaths every year occur just from household exposure to poor energy sources from dirty fuels and cookstoves (WHO, n.d.). 

Air Pollutants and their Sources

Air pollutants can be classified as being primary or secondary pollutants. 

Primary pollutants are those that are directly emitted into the atmosphere. Air pollutants can have mixed sources of origin such as natural pollutants, anthropogenic pollutants, or a mix of these both. Some of the primary pollutants include particulate matter,  carbon forms, sulfur oxides,  nitrogen oxides,  forms of ammonia,  carbon monoxide, methane,  volatile organic compounds such as benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Examples of secondary pollutants include particulate matter such as Ozone (O3), Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and several other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The most important of them are Sulphur dioxide (SO2) and NOx, NH3, etc.  

Primary and secondary sources of air pollutants are diverse in nature and can be as a result of various activities such as:

  • Burning fossil fuel for energy through power plants, for transportation, industrial processes, household usages, etc. 
  • Industrial and factorial activities such as mass production of several items, especially highly chemical products such as cleaning agents, or using extremely corrosive chemicals in the processes involved to manufacture their items. 
  • Agricultural emissions such as from pesticides, burning of agricultural waste, usage of farming equipment, etc. 
  • Waste or sewage treatment processes that use several kinds of chemicals and chemical processes
  • Environmental sources such as volcanoes, certain trees or plants, pollutants being blown into certain regions due to winds/ cyclones, emissions from wildfires, etc. 

Addressing poor air quality requires that we have a framework that takes a multi-pronged approach towards ensuring a decent cut in global emissions. However, ensuring the reduction of global emissions isn’t enough, as it is also important that we monitor the concentrations of each pollutant as well. There are various influential elements that control air quality and air pollution, and each of these has lasting impacts in several facets of our daily lives from health to the everyday weather. 


Biodiversity is an umbrella term used to describe the various life forms on Earth. It could also be used to refer to all living species under a specific region or ecosystem, be it plants, animals, bacteria, humans, etc. Biodiversity is also referred to by other terms such as biological diversity, diversity of life, or biological variability. Our planet’s diverse and thriving ecosystems may seem like permanent fixtures on this planet. However, this is far from the truth and they are vulnerable to threats and risk just like any of us. 

Threatened ecosystems could turn from jungles to deserts and thriving marine ecosystems to lifeless rocks, due to environmental disasters such as earthquakes or volcanoes or due to anthropological activities. The latter option is the rising category due to the immense impact we have on the environment around us. 

Biodiversity is based on 3 interdependent features, and the more they grow into each other, the larger is their resilience in the face of change. Biodiversity doesn’t just mean the inclusion of living beings at one particular point in time and space, rather it is an assessment of the interactions between these living elements and their environment, and ensures to identify a relationship between these elements that make life possible on the planet. The interdependent 3 features of biodiversity are as follows:

Ecosystem Diversity 

Ecosystem biodiversity refers to the diverse ecosystems around us, purely by its quantitative nature, where living species interact with each other and the environment to create the ecosystem we can observe. There are different ecosystems on the planet with different characteristics such as jungles, deserts, rainforests, grasslands, etc. Within each system, there are distinctive features that make it stand out from other similar systems and each system has its own ways of functioning and thriving in the environment it is based on. 

Species Diversity 

Species diversity refers to the diversity in the kinds of living species on the planet. There are millions of living species on the planet. Researchers suggest that there are approximately 8.7 million species of plants and animals that exist currently; however, only 1.2 million of these have been identified and described; most of these identified species are insects. There are millions more that we do not even know about it. Living species on the planet are categorized based on their species such as fungi, insects, birds, animals, etc. Species diversity is categorized into two:

Intraspecies Diversity 

Refers to the genetic diversity and variations within the same species of the living system. In humans, intraspecies diversity would refer to the changes in skin color, hair color, hair type, eye color, etc., and is one of the most common and observable forms of intraspecies diversity. 

Interspecies Diversity

Interspecies diversity refers to the diversity of living species amongst themselves; either with respect to their nature, their numbers, relative importance of these species within the systems, etc. For example, there is a higher diversity of homo sapiens than species of African elephants. 

Genetic Diversity 

Genetic diversity refers to the diversity in genetic material that exists in the living world around us. This diversity can be observed amongst, between and within different species, leading to diverse expressions of these genes. Genetic diversity is the reason why the world currently has multiplicity in life forms as well as varying physical, biological, and chemical characteristics in different ecosystems. These characteristics have been built over the years through these species’ interactions with each other and the environment, and have eventually contributed towards creation of diverse genetic species. 

Destruction of Biodiversity 

Ecosystems have been severely impacted by air pollution, specifically by sulphur and nitrogen emissions, as well as the increasing concentrations of ground-level ozone. Sulphur and nitrogen emissions deposit as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, and accumulate on soil, water, and vegetation through various methods such as through acid rains. The increasing acidity of soil, water, and vegetation affects the balance of the ecosystem to provide the services they do for the wide variety of living species on the planet. Some of the affected activities include nutrient cycling, carbon cycling, water provision, etc. on which life on earth is dependent. 

Increased ground-level ozone damages plants’ cell membranes, stops or drastically limits the capacities of the plant growth processes. This causes for plant systems to grow slower, and thus inhibits their capabilities to act as carbon sinks. It is well know that trees, plants, and diverse vegetation can absorb excessive nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and particulate matter. This could ideally help slow down global warming, as well as reduce the amount of global emissions into the environment, every year. Eutrophication of water bodies occur when there are large amounts of accumulated air pollutants in the water, which triggers a massive growth of algae, which cuts off oxygen and sunlight to marine ecosystems, thus creating deadzones. 

Ultimately, these effects would pile on humans as increased pollutant concentration has severe effects on the physical and mental well-being. Increased pollution, especially air pollution, makes lives difficult for all citizens, specifically the vulnerable and marginalized communities. The reduced capacities of our surrounding biodiversities will impact humans and human health, and create long-term issues that cannot be resolved without timely measures. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Are there effects on biodiversity due to air pollution?

How can we protect biodiversity?

Biodiversity protection is an important factor and needs to taken up by global and national actors to ensure the sustainability of their activities, as well as ensure the safety and well-being of their citizens. Anthropological activities, conducted mindlessly without thinking off consequences to the environment is severely destructive and this needs to be addressed immediately, this can be done through the following steps:

  • Limit deforestation and campaign towards afforestation. Support community groups and larger stakeholders who campaign for afforestation. 
  • Reduce the destruction of natural environments for anthropological activites or large projects. 
  • Reduce air pollution by moving to electric transportation systems, enforcing strict environmental regulations on large-scale actors such as factories and extractive industries, reduce the burning of waste, reducing dependency on fossil fuels, etc. 
  • Fighting global warming by holding your governments and larger stakeholders accountable for their actions, and promoting transparency in their corporate social responsibility goals. 
  • Ensuring that there are sustainable systems being enforced everyday that contributes towards holistic support and development for all, and ensure that any method or framework introduced is done so in an intersectional and participatory manner to increase engagement and responsibility amongst all actors. 

When was the impact of anthropological activities on biodiversity recognised?

It wasn’t until the late 1980s that researchers started recognising the drastic impacts on biodiversity due to mindless anthropological activities. The immediate attention and focus that followed this realisation, helped actors recognise that there was approximately 60% of disappearance of various known species of plants and animals due to careless encroachment and human activities since the 1970s. These activities have eventually lead to the climate change patterns we observe today. Global actors did not take the first step towards biodiversity protection until the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, where biodiversity was now acknowledged as an important element to sustainable development and a Convention on Biological Diversity Treaty was introduced. 

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

Government Measures taken for Air Pollution: India

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Government Measures taken for Air Pollution: China


Morecraft M. D., Sier A. R. J., Elston D. A., Nevison I. M., Hall J. R., Rennie S. C., Parr T. W., & Crick H. Q. P. (2006 April). Targeted monitoring of air pollution and climate change impacts on biodiversity. Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs. Countryside Council for Wales and English Nature. Viewed on 12-20-2021. 

National Geographic Society. (2019, August 23). Biodiversity. Resource Library: Encyclopedic Entry. Viewed on 12-20-2021. 

United Nations Economic Commissions for Europe (UNECE). (n.d.). Air pollution, ecosystems, and biodiversity. Environmental Policy. Viewed on 12-20-2021. 

United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). (n.d.). Ecosystems and Air Quality. Viewed on 12-20-2021. 

YouMatter. (2020, May 14). Biodiversity Definition: What is it, protection, loos, and CSR Commitments. Viewed on 12-20-2021. 

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