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What Is Biodiversity?
Biodiversity, which is short for biological diversity, is a term used to describe the variety of life found on Earth and the relationships between living organisms. This includes diversity among individuals (genetic variation), species (number of species), and ecosystems (variations in ecosystems).
Genetic diversity refers to the variation of genes in a species. Genes are passed from parent to offspring and determine the characteristics of the individual. This genetic diversity allows species to adapt to changing environmental conditions as well as to respond to natural selection. When one species has a large genetic diversity, it will increase the likelihood of species survival.
Species diversity is the most commonly discussed type of diversity. It refers to variation among species. High species diversity tends to mean that an area is healthier than when there is low species diversity.
Community and ecosystem diversity refers to the variation of ecosystem and all of their inhabitants. This is often assessed through a comparison of different ecosystems or sites to determine which have higher or lower levels of diversity. It can be measured on different scales; within community diversity (alpha diversity), between communities diversity (beta diversity) or diversity over the entire landscape of geographic region (gamma diversity).
How Do We Measure Biodiversity?
There are many ways to measure biodiversity, and scientists do not agree on one method. However, scientists do agree that more than one measurement is necessary to gain an accurate picture of the diversity within an area. These measurements often include species richness and evenness calculations, which are then used within an index, which offers a simple number that can be interpreted with ease.
Species Richness:↝ Click here to view the expanded information
This biodiversity index is commonly used because it is a quick way to differentiate between different locations, ecosystems, or populations of organisms. It is a calculation of the total number of species in a particular place. This method is beneficial because scientists often do not have disagreements about species identification as they do about other taxonomic levels, such as family or genus. It is also easy for the public to understand. However, it does not take into consideration the number of individuals in each species (proportions).
Species Evenness:↝ Click here to view the expanded information
This measure of biodiversity examines the relative quantities, or proportion of the species that have been identified in one area. It looks at how individuals are distributed among a community. For example, a site may be home to many different individuals and seem diverse, but if 99% of those individuals belong to the same species group, the site may actually not be very diverse at all.
Simpson Index:↝ Click here to view the expanded information
This example of one type of biodiversity index is a more complex measure of biodiversity that combines species richness and species evenness to create a measurement. Based on this number, we can determine whether the site has a low or high level of biodiversity. The scale ranges from 0-1, with 1 representing low biodiversity and 0 representing high biodiversity. We can also use this number to compare biodiversity between different sites.
Why Is Biodiversity Important?
There are several important reasons for us to gain an understanding of the dynamic nature of biological diversity, particularly in terms of maintaining ecological balance. It is no secret that humans have an enormous impact on species and ecosystem diversity, yet, throughout our existence, biodiversity has faithfully provided us with enormous economic, medical and social benefits as well as many other natural services. As such, it is essential that we actively choose to minimize the negative impacts that our actions have on the environment.
How Do We Benefit From Biodiversity?
Natural Services:↝ Click here to view the expanded information
- Oxygen production
- Water purification
- Climate moderation
- Removal of greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere
- Nutrient storage and recycling
- Pollution breakdown and absorption
Economic Benefits:↝ Click here to view the expanded information
- Employment: Agriculture, forestry, fishing, eco-tourism, outdoor recreation, etc…
- Industry: Agriculture, fishing, forestry, etc…
- Medicinal and pharmaceutical resources
- Food and beverage industries
Social Benefits:↝ Click here to view the expanded information
- Recreation and tourism
- Spiritual and artistic inspiration
- Cultural identity
- Research, education and monitoring
Threats To Biodiversity
Unfortunately, our world’s biodiversity is being challenged. Humans have introduced many new technologies and chemicals to the environment that are harming individuals and entire species who are unable to adapt. We often use the acronym HIPPOC to outline the 6 major threats to biodiversity.
Habitat Loss:↝ Click here to view the expanded information
Invasive Species:↝ Click here to view the expanded information
Pollution:↝ Click here to view the expanded information
Population Increase:↝ Click here to view the expanded information
Over Harvesting:↝ Click here to view the expanded information
Climate Change:↝ Click here to view the expanded information
If we think of an ecosystem as a woven carpet, these threats become much easier to understand. If we pull on one loose thread in the carpet, several things may happen. This pull may only impact that single thread, or a few surrounding threads, making them loose as well. If we continue to pull on these loose threads, the carpet will begin to unravel and at a faster rate each time a thread is pulled. If each and every one of us is pulling on a thread, it will not be long before we completely unravel our woven carpet. This sensitivity represents the biodiversity which is woven around us. We are a part of this carefully woven environment, and with continual pulling, we may « unravel » the planet which we depend on for survival.