What is Biodiversity?

I’m sure, like me, you’ve heard the term “Biodiversity”, but have never looked into it in depth to understand fully what it means. I have taken the time to do just that, and although it’s a complex subject, the basic concept can be simply put. 

Biodiversity is the name given to all forms of life on Earth.  There is a huge range of life on our planet, including animals, plants, bacteria and people. 

All these living things exist within their own ecosystems, from the oceans to forests, deserts to ice caps or even cities.  These environments are very different to each other but intertwine with the physical world around them. 

The word biodiversity is derived from ‘biological diversity’.  A complicated concept, but one that is perfect for humans to live in. 

Why do we need biodiversity?

Humans need biodiversity to survive.  By intertwining within other ecosystems, we can thrive by supporting and being supported by all the elements of each ecosystem. 

Humans need nature, for food, water, and clean air. So nature needs to be in a stable and sustainable condition.  But what we need above all is biodiversity.  Nature needs to be able to thrive in a world that can be resilient to change, provided change is small and gradual.  Drastic changes or swings in our climate for instance cause problems as nature can’t change at the same pace. 

A variety of animals and plants in a habitat help to make that place stable and sustainable.  Small changes will have fewer effects, which allows that habitat to keep providing us with what we need. 

Ecosystem services

Biodiversity brings benefits which are called ecosystem services.  Our lives are made healthy and safe by biodiversity.  Services include forests that diminish floods, and coastlines that protect us from changing sea levels.  Wetlands help to regulate pollution, and our leisure areas like parks help our anxiety and well-being. 

Biodiversity and species richness

We can measure biodiversity by studying the number of species in an area – known as species richness. These studies between places and areas help us to understand the differences between them. Obviously, there are vast differences between rain forests and deserts; there are many times more species living in a rain forest than a desert. 

Although about 1.5 million species have been described by scientists, it is thought that there are millions more sharing our planet with us. 

Endangered species

When drastic changes are made to the ecosystems, species of animals and plants become endangered with extinction. 

There are currently more than 30,000 species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of endangered species.  The world has lost huge amounts of species already, some by natural phenomena such as those that wiped out the dinosaurs millions of years ago.  The increase in the world’s population is the current cause of the growth in extinction rates. 

Biodiversity is under threat across the world, some areas more critical than others. 

A 20% drop in species diversity compromises a local ecosystem; sadly it’s considered that over 25% of our planet’s land surface has already exceeded this. 

The human population is making this problem worse; they aren’t wholly responsible but have accelerated the problem by exploiting the Earth’s resources, which in turn upsets the balance of biodiversity.  Changes in the landscape such as building on farm land can change natural habitats beyond recognition, and over-fishing our oceans upsets the balance. 

In densely populated areas such as cities and towns, some species flourish – pigeons for example – but conversely the lack of the right habitats can be damaging to the survival of other birds and insects, like butterflies. 

Invasive species

Sometimes plants and animals move around the world, usually by human activity, although also sometimes naturally. This can cause a threat to biodiversity; when a species appears in a new environment it can harm wildlife or even humans. 

In the eighteenth century rabbits were introduced to Australia, to be bred for food. However, their population exploded and because of the vast amount of food they ate, caused massive devastation to the environment. To this day, the rabbit population still causes damage by eating trees and plants which can have an adverse effect by eroding the soil. 

This is not a rare occurrence; all over the world there are islands where an alien species is introduced, accidentally or deliberately, and upsets the balance of the biodiversity that has evolved and survived for millions of years. 

Ecosystems can be changed dramatically by invasive species of animals or plants. Extinction, reduced biodiversity, and species richness are all affected. 

Protecting the natural world

We are all aware that the recent COP26 meeting has been trying to reach an agreement to change the way we treat our planet.  The impact humans have on climate change in turn affects the biodiversity of the planet so we need to address both issues, immediately.

Without a stable climate and biodiverse environment the planet will deteriorate beyond repair, so we need to act now.

As the human population continues to grow, the effect on the planet will grow. We shouldn’t take our planet for granted, we need to act now. 

Even small changes can add up so think about how you can reduce your own impact on the planet. We all know about recycling our waste, but this can be confusing, so take the time to understand it. Save water where you can, buy products without plastic packaging whenever possible. There are numerous things we can do to help the planet, so do what you can now, and involve young children in it so that it becomes a way of life for them. If they are brought up to do the right thing it will be perfectly natural to them, and hopefully it won’t occur to them to damage the world they live in.