So What is Biodiversity, Exactly?

We write a lot about biodiversity, but it’s a complicated topic and we thought that we’d use this week to take a deeper dive into what it means and why we should all care about the issue.

So here goes, the American Museum of Natural History defines biodiversity (from “biological diversity”) as the variety of life on Earth at all its levels, from genes to ecosystems, and can encompass the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes that sustain life.

That’s a lot, but essentially it refers to the variety of living species on Earth, including plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi. Biodiversity is all the living components of nature that allow ecosystems to thrive and support life. Every living thing plays its part in ecosystem productivity, which means that when one living thing becomes extinct it has reverberating ramifications.

The Specifics: The Guardian summed it up best in a 2018 article,

  • Biodiversity is comprised of several levels, starting with genes, then individual species, then communities of creatures and finally entire ecosystems, such as forests or coral reefs, where life interplays with the physical environment. These myriad interactions have made Earth habitable for billions of years.
  • A more philosophical way of viewing biodiversity is this: it represents the knowledge learned by evolving species over millions of years about how to survive through the vastly varying environmental conditions Earth has experienced. Seen like that, experts warn, humanity is currently “burning the library of life”.

The Business Case: Protecting biodiversity isn’t just a cause for environmental groups, it’s something that the world’s largest corporations realize affects their bottom lines.

Why This Matters: Biodiversity is so much more than animals in the wild, it provides people with countless benefits, just to name a few:

  • Food, fuel, shelter, and medicine.
  • Additionally, ecosystems provide crucial services such as pollination, seed dispersal, climate regulation, water purification, nutrient cycling, and control of agricultural pests.
  • Perhaps most importantly, plants create the air we breathe.

Rich biodiversity keeps ecosystems healthy and allows the ecosystem services outlined above to function properly. When biodiversity loss occurs, we lose resiliency and vital ecosystem services that have been honed over millions of years. Humans need nature in order to survive and it’s for this reason that we have to be much more proactive in protecting biodiversity.


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