Biodiversity refers to the variety of life. It is seen in the number of species in an ecosystem or on the entire Earth. Biodiversity gets used as a measure of the health of biological systems, and to see if there is a danger that too many species become extinct. The United Nations designated 2011–2020 as the "United Nations Decade on Biodiversity".
The term biological diversity was used first by wildlife scientist and conservationist Raymond F. Dasmann in 1968, where he advocated conservation. It was widely adopted only in the 1980s.
The term biodiversity first appeared in a publication in 1988 when entomologist E. O. Wilson used it as a title. Since then, the term has often been used by biologists, environmentalists, political leaders, and citizens. A similar term in the United States is "natural heritage." It predates the others and is more accepted by the wider audience interested in conservation. Broader than biodiversity, it includes geology and landforms.
Biologists most often define biodiversity as the "totality of genes, species, and ecosystems of a region". An advantage of this definition is that it seems to describe most circumstances. There are three levels at which biological variety can been identified:
- species diversity
- ecosystem diversity
- genetic diversity
There are a multitude of benefits of biodiversity in the sense of one diverse group aiding another such as:
Resistance to catastrophe
Monoculture, the lack of biodiversity, was a contributing factor to several agricultural disasters in history, including the Irish Potato Famine, the European wine industry collapse in the late 1800s, and the US Southern Corn Leaf Blight epidemic of 1970.
Higher biodiversity also controls the spread of certain diseases as e.g. viruses will need adapt itself with every new species.
Food and drink
Biodiversity provides food for humans. About 80 percent of our food supply comes from just 20 kinds of plants. Humans use at least 40,000 species of plants and animals a day. Although many kinds of animals are utilized as food, again most consumption is focused on a few species. There are also many people in the world who depend on these species for their food, shelter, and clothing.
There is vast untapped potential for increasing the range of food products suitable for human consumption, provided that the high present extinction rate can be stopped.
A significant proportion of drugs are derived, directly or indirectly, from biological sources; in most cases these medicines can not presently be synthesized in a laboratory setting. About 40% if the pharmaceuticals used in the US are found from natural compounds found in plants, animals, and microorganism. Moreover, only a small proportion of the total diversity of plants has been thoroughly investigated for potential sources of new drugs. Many medicines and antibiotics are also derived from microorganisms.
A wide range of industrial materials are derived directly from biological resources. These include building materials, fibers, dyes, resins, gums, adhesives, rubber and oil. There is enormous potential for further research into sustainably utilizing materials from a wider diversity of organisms.
Through the field of bionics, a lot of technological advancement has been done which may not have been the case without a rich biodiversity. (See also: Bionics)
For certain economical crops (e.g. foodcrops, ...), wild varieties of the domesticated species can be reintroduced to form a better variety than the previous (domesticated) species. The economic impact is gigantic, for even crops as common as the potato (which was bred through only one variety, brought back from the Inca), a lot more can come from these species. Wild varieties of the potato will all suffer enormously through the effects of climate change. A report by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) describes the huge economic loss. Rice, which has been improved for thousands of years by man, can through the same process regain some of its nutritional value that has been lost since (a project is already being carried out to do just this).
Other ecological services
Biodiversity provides many ecosystem services that are often not readily visible. It plays a part in regulating the chemistry of our atmosphere and water supply. Biodiversity is directly involved in recycling nutrients and providing fertile soils. Experiments with controlled environments have shown that humans cannot easily build ecosystems to support human needs; for example insect pollination cannot be mimicked by man-made construction, and that activity alone represents tens of billions of dollars in ecosystem services per annum to mankind.
Leisure, cultural and aesthetic value
Many people derive value from biodiversity through leisure activities such as enjoying a walk in the countryside, birdwatching or natural history programs on television.
Biodiversity has inspired musicians, painters, sculptors, writers and other artists. Many cultural groups view themselves as an integral part of the natural world and show respect for other living organisms.
Images for kids
A conifer forest in the Swiss Alps (National Park)
Eagle Creek, Oregon hiking
A great deal of work is occurring to preserve the natural characteristics of Hopetoun Falls, Australia while continuing to allow visitor access.
Sources and further reading:
Biodiversity Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.