Some of the biodiversity of a coral reef
Rainforests are an example of biodiversity on the planet, and typically possess a great deal of species diversity. This is the Gambia River in Senegal's Niokolo-Koba National Park.

Biodiversity is the degree of variation of life forms within a given ecosystem, biome, or an entire planet. Biodiversity is a measure of the health of ecosystems. Biodiversity is in part a function of climate. In terrestrial habitats, tropical regions are typically rich whereas polar regions support fewer species.

Rapid environmental changes typically cause mass extinctions. One estimate is that less than 1% of the species that have existed on Earth are extant.[1]

Since life began on Earth, five major mass extinctions and several minor events have led to large and sudden drops in biodiversity. The Phanerozoic eon (the last 540 million years) marked a rapid growth in biodiversity via the Cambrian explosion—a period during which nearly every phylum of multicellular organisms first appeared. The next 400 million years included repeated, massive biodiversity losses classified as mass extinction events. In the Carboniferous, rainforest collapse led to a great loss of plant and animal life.[2] The Permian–Triassic extinction event, 251 million years ago, was the worst; vertebrate recovery took 30 million years.[3] The most recent, the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, occurred 65 million years ago, and has often attracted more attention than others because it resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs.[4]

The period since the emergence of humans has displayed an ongoing biodiversity reduction and an accompanying loss of genetic diversity. Named the Holocene extinction, the reduction is caused primarily by human impacts, particularly habitat destruction. Conversely, biodiversity impacts human health in a number of ways, both positively and negatively.[5]

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 the 1968 lay book A Different Kind of Country[6] advocating conservation. The term was widely adopted only after more than a decade, when in the 1980s it came into common usage in science and environmental policy. Thomas Lovejoy, in the foreword to the book Conservation Biology,[7] introduced the term to the scientific community. Until then the term "natural diversity" was common, introduced by The Science Division of The Nature Conservancy in an important 1975 study, "The Preservation of Natural Diversity." By the early 1980s TNC's Science program and its head, Robert E. Jenkins,[8] Lovejoy and other leading conservation scientists at the time in America advocated the use of "biological diversity".

The term's contracted form biodiversity may have been coined by W.G. Rosen in 1985 while planning the 1986 National Forum on Biological Diversity organized by the National Research Council (NRC). It first appeared in a publication in 1988 when entomologist E. O. Wilson used it as the title of the proceedings[9] of that forum.[10]

Since this period the term has achieved widespread use among biologists, environmentalists, political leaders, and concerned 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 (geodiversity).


A sampling of fungi collected during summer 2008 in Northern Saskatchewan mixed woods, near LaRonge is an example regarding the species diversity of fungi. In this photo, there are also leaf lichens and mosses.

"Biological diversity" or "biodiversity" can have many interpretations. It is most commonly used to replace the more clearly defined and long established terms, species diversity and species richness. Biologists most often define biodiversity as the "totality of genes, species, and ecosystems of a region".[11][12] An advantage of this definition is that it seems to describe most circumstances and presents a unified view of the traditional three levels at which biological variety has been identified:

In 2003 Professor Anthony Campbell at Cardiff University, UK and the Darwin Centre, Pembrokeshire, defined a fourth level: Molecular Diversity.[13]

This multilevel construct is consistent with Dasmann and Lovejoy. An explicit definition consistent with this interpretation was first given in a paper by Bruce A. Wilcox commissioned by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) for the 1982 World National Parks Conference.[14] Wilcox's definition was "Biological diversity is the variety of life all levels of biological systems (i.e., molecular, organismic, population, species and ecosystem)...". The 1992 United Nations Earth Summit defined "biological diversity" as "the variability among living organisms from all sources, including, 'inter alia', terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part: this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems".[15] This definition is used in the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.[15]

One textbook's definition is "variation of life at all levels of biological organization".[16]

Geneticists define it as the diversity of genes and organisms. They study processes such as mutations, gene transfer, and genome dynamics that generate evolution.[14]

Measuring diversity at one level in a group of organisms may not precisely correspond to diversity at other levels. However, tetrapod (terrestrial vertebrates) taxonomic and ecological diversity shows a very close correlation.[17]


Biodiversity is not evenly distributed, rather it varies greatly across the globe as well as within regions. Among other factors, the diversity of all living things (biota) depends on temperature, precipitation, altitude, soils, geography and the presence of other species. The study of the spatial distribution of organisms, species, and ecosystems, is the science of biogeography.

Diversity consistently measures higher in the tropics and in other localized regions such as Cape Floristic Province and lower in polar regions generally. In 2006 many species were formally classified as rare or endangered or threatened; moreover, scientists have estimated that millions more species are at risk which have not been formally recognized. About 40 percent of the 40,177 species assessed using the IUCN Red List criteria are now listed as threatened with extinction—a total of 16,119.[18]

Generally terrestrial biodiversity is up to 25 times greater than ocean biodiversity.[19]

Latitudinal gradients

Generally, there is an increase in biodiversity from the poles to the tropics. Thus localities at lower latitudes have more species than localities at higher latitudes. This is often referred to as the latitudinal gradient in species diversity. Several ecological mechanisms may contribute to the gradient, but the ultimate factor behind many of them is the greater mean temperature at the equator compared to that of the poles.[20][21]

Even though terrestrial biodiversity declines from the equator to the poles,[22] some studies claim that this characteristic is unverified in aquatic ecosystems, especially in marine ecosystems.[23] The latitudinal distribution of parasites does not follow this rule.[24] Other instances of great diversity in higher latitudes have also been recorded.[citation needed]


A biodiversity hotspot is a region with a high level of endemic species. Hotspots were first named in 1988 by Dr. Sabina Virk.[25][26] Many hotspots have large nearby human populations.[27] While hotspots are spread all over the world, the majority are forest areas and most are located in the tropics.[28]

Brazil's Atlantic Forest is considered one such hotspot, containing roughly 20,000 plant species, 1,350 vertebrates, and millions of insects, about half of which occur nowhere else. The island of Madagascar, particularly the unique Madagascar dry deciduous forests and lowland rainforests, possess a high ratio of endemism. Since the island separated from mainland Africa 65 million years ago, many species and ecosystems have evolved independently. Indonesia's 17,000 islands cover 735,355 square miles (1,904,560 km2) contain 10% of the world's flowering plants, 12% of mammals and 17% of reptiles, amphibians and birds—along with nearly 240 million people.[29] Many regions of high biodiversity and/or endemism arise from specialized habitats which require unusual adaptations, for example alpine environments in high mountains, or Northern European peat bogs.

Accurately measuring differences in biodiversity can be difficult. Selection bias amongst researchers may contribute to biased empirical research for modern estimates of biodiversity. In 1768 Rev. Gilbert White succinctly observed of his Selborne, Hampshire "all nature is so full, that that district produces the most variety which is the most examined."[30]


Apparent marine fossil diversity during the Phanerozoic[31]

Biodiversity is the result of 3.5 billion years of evolution. The origin of life has not been definitely established by science, however some evidence suggests that life may already have been well-established only a few hundred million years after the formation of the Earth. Until approximately 600 million years ago, all life consisted of archaea, bacteria, protozoans and similar single-celled organisms.

The history of biodiversity during the Phanerozoic (the last 540 million years), starts with rapid growth during the Cambrian explosion—a period during which nearly every phylum of multicellular organisms first appeared. Over the next 400 million years or so, invertebrate diversity showed little overall trend, and vertebrate diversity shows an overall exponential trend.[17] This dramatic rise in diversity was marked by periodic, massive losses of diversity classified as mass extinction events.[17] A significant loss occurred when rainforests collapsed in the carboniferous.[2] The worst was the Permo-Triassic extinction, 251 million years ago. Vertebrates took 30 million years to recover from this event.[3]

The fossil record suggests that the last few million years featured the greatest biodiversity in history.[17] However, not all scientists support this view, since there is uncertainty as to how strongly the fossil record is biased by the greater availability and preservation of recent geologic sections. Some scientists believe that corrected for sampling artifacts, modern biodiversity may not be much different from biodiversity 300 million years ago.,[32] whereas others consider the fossil record reasonably reflective of the diversification of life.[17] Estimates of the present global macroscopic species diversity vary from 2 million to 100 million, with a best estimate of somewhere near 13–14 million, the vast majority arthropods.[33] Diversity appears to increase continually in the absence of natural selection.[34]

Evolutionary diversification

The existence of a "global carrying capacity", limiting the amount of life that can live at once, is debated, as is the question of whether such a limit would also cap the number of species. While records of life in the sea shows a logistic pattern of growth, life on land (insects, plants and tetrapods)shows an exponential rise in diversity. As one author states, "Tetrapods have not yet invaded 64 per cent of potentially habitable modes, and it could be that without human influence the ecological and taxonomic diversity of tetrapods would continue to increase in an exponential fashion until most or all of the available ecospace is filled."[17]

On the other hand, changes through the Phanerozoic correlate much better with the hyperbolic model (widely used in population biology, demography and macrosociology, as well as fossil biodiversity) than with exponential and logistic models. The latter models imply that changes in diversity are guided by a first-order positive feedback (more ancestors, more descendants) and/or a negative feedback arising from resource limitation. Hyperbolic model implies a second-order positive feedback. The hyperbolic pattern of the world population growth arises from a second-order positive feedback between the population size and the rate of technological growth.[35] The hyperbolic character of biodiversity growth can be similarly accounted for by a feedback between diversity and community structure complexity. The similarity between the curves of biodiversity and human population probably comes from the fact that both are derived from the interference of the hyperbolic trend with cyclical and stochastic dynamics.[35][36]

Most biologists agree however that the period since human emergence is part of a new mass extinction, named the Holocene extinction event, caused primarily by the impact humans are having on the environment.[37] It has been argued that the present rate of extinction is sufficient to eliminate most species on the planet Earth within 100 years.[38]

New species are regularly discovered (on average between 5–10,000 new species each year, most of them insects) and many, though discovered, are not yet classified (estimates are that nearly 90% of all arthropods are not yet classified).[33] Most of the terrestrial diversity is found in tropical forests.

Human benefits

Summer field in Belgium (Hamois). The blue flowers are Centaurea cyanus and the red are Papaver rhoeas.

Biodiversity supports ecosystem services including air quality,[39] climate (e.g., CO2 sequestration), water purification, pollination, and prevention of erosion.[39]

Since the stone age, species loss has accelerated above the prior rate, driven by human activity. Estimates of species loss are at a rate 100-10,000 times as fast as is typical in the fossil record.[40]

Non-material benefits include spiritual and aesthetic values, knowledge systems and the value of education.[40]


Crop diversity aids recovery when the dominant cultivar is attacked by a disease or predator:

  • The Irish potato blight of 1846 was a major factor in the deaths of one million people and the emigration of another million. It was the result of planting only two potato varieties, both vulnerable to the blight.
  • When rice grassy stunt virus struck rice fields from Indonesia to India in the 1970s, 6,273 varieties were tested for resistance.[41] Only one was resistant, an Indian variety, and known to science only since 1966.[41] This variety formed a hybrid with other varieties and is now widely grown.[41]
  • Coffee rust attacked coffee plantations in Sri Lanka, Brazil, and Central America in 1970. A resistant variety was found in Ethiopia.[42] Although the diseases are themselves a form of biodiversity.

Monoculture was a contributing factor to several agricultural disasters, including the European wine industry collapse in the late 19th century, and the US Southern Corn Leaf Blight epidemic of 1970.[43]

Although about 80 percent of humans' food supply comes from just 20 kinds of plants,[citation needed] humans use at least 40,000 species.[citation needed] Many people depend on these species for food, shelter, and clothing.[citation needed] Earth's surviving biodiversity provides resources for increasing the range of food and other products suitable for human use, although the present extinction rate shrinks that potential.[38]

Human health

The diverse forest canopy on Barro Colorado Island, Panama, yielded this display of different fruit

Biodiversity's relevance to human health is becoming an international political issue, as scientific evidence builds on the global health implications of biodiversity loss.[44][45][46] This issue is closely linked with the issue of climate change,[47] as many of the anticipated health risks of climate change are associated with changes in biodiversity (e.g. changes in populations and distribution of disease vectors, scarcity of fresh water, impacts on agricultural biodiversity and food resources etc.) This is because the species most likely to disappear are those that buffer against infectious disease transmission, while surviving species tend to be the ones that increase disease transmission, such as that of West Nile Virus, Lyme disease and Hantavirus, according to a study done co-authored by Felicia Keesing, and ecologist at Bard College, and Drew Harvell, associate director for Environment of the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future (ACSF) at Cornell University.[48]

Some of the health issues influenced by biodiversity include dietary health and nutrition security, infectious disease, medical science and medicinal resources, social and psychological health.[49] Biodiversity is also known to have an important role in reducing disaster risk, and in post-disaster relief and recovery efforts.[50][51]

Biodiversity provides critical support for drug discovery and the availability of medicinal resources.[52] A significant proportion of drugs are derived, directly or indirectly, from biological sources: at least 50% of the pharmaceutical compounds on the US market are derived from plants, animals, and micro-organisms, while about 80% of the world population depends on medicines from nature (used in either modern or traditional medical practice) for primary healthcare.[45] Only a tiny fraction of wild species has been investigated for medical potential. Biodiversity has been critical to advances throughout the field of bionics. Evidence from market analysis and biodiversity science indicates that the decline in output from the pharmaceutical sector since the mid-1980s can be attributed to a move away from natural product exploration ("bioprospecting") in favor of genomics and synthetic chemistry; meanwhile, natural products have a long history of supporting significant economic and health innovation.[53][54] Marine ecosystems are particularly important,[55] although inappropriate bioprospecting can increase biodiversity loss, as well as violating the laws of the communities and states from which the resources are taken.[56][57][58]

Business and industry

Agriculture production, pictured is a tractor and a chaser bin

Many industrial materials derive directly from biological sources. These include building materials, fibers, dyes, rubber and oil. Biodiversity is also important to the security of resources such as water, timber, paper, fiber, and food.[59][60][61] As a result, biodiversity loss is a significant risk factor in business development and a threat to long term economic sustainability.[62]

Leisure, cultural and aesthetic value

Biodiversity enriches leisure activities such as hiking, birdwatching or natural history study. Biodiversity inspires musicians, painters, sculptors, writers and other artists. Many cultures view themselves as an integral part of the natural world which requires them to respect other living organisms.

Popular activities such as gardening, fishkeeping and specimen collecting strongly depend on biodiversity. The number of species involved in such pursuits is in the tens of thousands, though the majority do not enter commerce.

The relationships between the original natural areas of these often exotic animals and plants and commercial collectors, suppliers, breeders, propagators and those who promote their understanding and enjoyment are complex and poorly understood. The general public responds well to exposure to rare and unusual organisms, reflecting their inherent value.

Philosophically it could be argued that biodiversity has intrinsic aesthetic and spiritual value to mankind in and of itself. This idea can be used as a counterweight to the notion that tropical forests and other ecological realms are only worthy of conservation because of the services they provide.[citation needed]

Ecological services

Eagle Creek, Oregon hiking

Biodiversity supports 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 water purification, 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, and that activity alone represents tens of billions of dollars in ecosystem services per year to humankind.[citation needed]

Daisyworld simulations, supported by evidence from scientific studies, has proven the positive co-relation of biodiversity with ecosystem stability, protecting against disruption by extreme weather or human exploitation.[63]

Number of species

Undiscovered and discovered species

According to the Global Taxonomy Initiative[64] and the European Distributed Institute of Taxonomy, the total number of species for some phyla may be much higher than what was known in 2010:

  • 10–30 million insects;[65] (of some 0.9 million we know today)[66]
  • 5–10 million bacteria;[67]
  • 1.5 million fungi;(of some 0.075 million we know today)[68]
  • 1 million mites[69]
  • The number of microbial species is not reliably known, but the Global Ocean Sampling Expedition dramatically increased the estimates of genetic diversity by identifying an enormous number of new genes from near-surface plankton samples at various marine locations, initially over the 2004-2006 period.[70] The findings may eventually cause a significant change in the way science defines species and other taxonomic categories.[71][72]

Since the rate of extinction has increased, many extant species may become extinct before they are described.[73]

Species loss rates

"No longer do we have to justify the existence of humid tropical forests on the feeble grounds that they might carry plants with with drugs that cure human disease. Gaia theory forces us to see that they offer much more than this. Through their capacity to evapotranspirate vast volumes of water vapor, they serve to keep the planet cool by wearing a sunshade of white reflecting cloud. Their replacement by cropland could precipitate a disaster that is global in scale"

James Lovelock, in Biodiversity (E. O. Wilson (Ed)).[74]

During the last century, decreases in biodiversity have been increasingly observed. In 2007, German Federal Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel cited estimates that up to 30% of all species will be extinct by 2050.[75] Of these, about one eighth of known plant species are threatened with extinction.[76] Estimates reach as high as 140,000 species per year (based on Species-area theory).[77] This figure indicates unsustainable ecological practices, because few species emerge each year.[citation needed] Almost all scientists acknowledge that the rate of species loss is greater now than at any time in human history, with extinctions occurring at rates hundreds of times higher than background extinction rates.[76]


Jared Diamond describes an "Evil Quartet" of habitat destruction, overkill, introduced species, and secondary extinctions.[78] Edward O. Wilson prefers the acronym HIPPO, standing for habitat destruction, invasive species, pollution, human over population, and over-harvesting.[79][80] The most authoritative classification in use today is IUCN’s Classification of Direct Threats[81] which has been adopted by major international conservation organizations such as the US Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, and Birdlife International.

Habitat destruction

Deforestation and increased road-building in the Amazon Rainforest are a significant concern because of increased human encroachment upon wild areas, increased resource extraction and further threats to biodiversity.

Habitat destruction has played a key role in extinctions, especially related to tropical forest destruction.[82] Factors contributing to habitat loss are: overpopulation, deforestation,[83] pollution (air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination) and global warming or climate change.[citation needed]

Habitat size and numbers of species are systematically related. Physically larger species and those living at lower latitudes or in forests or oceans are more sensitive to reduction in habitat area.[84] Conversion to "trivial" standardized ecosystems (e.g., monoculture following deforestation) effectively destroys habitat for the more diverse species that preceded the conversion. In some countries lack of property rights or lax law/regulatory enforcement necessarily leads to biodiversity loss (degradation costs having to be supported by the community).[citation needed]

A 2007 study conducted by the National Science Foundation found that biodiversity and genetic diversity are codependent—that diversity among species requires diversity within a species, and vice versa. "If any one type is removed from the system, the cycle can break down, and the community becomes dominated by a single species."[85] At present, the most threatened ecosystems are found in fresh water, according to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005, which was confirmed by the "Freshwater Animal Diversity Assessment", organised by the biodiversity platform, and the French Institut de recherche pour le développement (MNHNP).[86]

Co-extinctions are a form of habitat destruction. Co-extinction occurs when the extinction or decline in one accompanies the other, such as in plants and beetles.[87]

Introduced and invasive species

Male Lophura nycthemera (Silver Pheasant), a native of East Asia that has been introduced into parts of Europe for ornamental reasons

Barriers such as large rivers, seas, oceans, mountains and deserts encourage diversity by enabling independent evolution on either side of the barrier. Invasive species occur when those barriers are blurred. Without barriers such species occupy new niches, substantially reducing diversity. Repeatedly humans have helped these species circumvent these barriers, introducing them for food and other purposes. This has occurred on a time scale much shorter than the eons that historically have been required for a species to extend its range.

Not all introduced species are invasive, nor all invasive species deliberately introduced. In cases such as the zebra mussel, invasion of US waterways was unintentional. In other cases, such as mongooses in Hawaii, the introduction is deliberate but ineffective (nocturnal rats were not vulnerable to the diurnal mongoose). In other cases, such as oil palms in Indonesia and Malaysia, the introduction produces substantial economic benefits, but the benefits are accompanied by costly unintended consequences.

Finally, an introduced species may unintentionally injure a species that depends on the species it replaces. In Belgium, Prunus spinosa from Eastern Europe leafs much sooner than its West European counterparts, disrupting the feeding habits of the Thecla betulae butterfly (which feeds on the leaves). Introducing new species often leaves endemic and other local species unable to compete with the exotic species and unable to survive. The exotic organisms may be predators, parasites, or may simply outcompete indigenous species for nutrients, water and light.

At present, several countries have already imported so many exotic species, particularly agricultural and ornamental plants, that their own indigenous fauna/flora may be outnumbered.

Genetic pollution

Endemic species can be threatened with extinction[88] through the process of genetic pollution, i.e. uncontrolled hybridization, introgression and genetic swamping. Genetic pollution leads to homogenization or replacement of local genomes as a result of either a numerical and/or fitness advantage of an introduced species.[89] Hybridization and introgression are side-effects of introduction and invasion. These phenomena can be especially detrimental to rare species that come into contact with more abundant ones. The abundant species can interbreed with the rare species, swamping its gene pool. This problem is not always apparent from morphological (outward appearance) observations alone. Some degree of gene flow is normal adaptation, and not all gene and genotype constellations can be preserved. However, hybridization with or without introgression may, nevertheless, threaten a rare species' existence.[90][91]


Overexploitation occurs when a resource is consumed at an unsustainable rate. This occurs on land in the form of overhunting, excessive logging, poor soil conservation in agriculture and the illegal wildlife trade. Joe Walston, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Asian programs, called the latter the "single largest threat" to biodiversity in Asia.[92] The international trade of endangered species is second in size only to drug trafficking.[93]

About 25% of world fisheries are now overfished to the point where their current biomass is less than the level that maximizes their sustainable yield.[94]

The overkill hypothesis explains why earlier megafaunal extinctions occurred within a relatively short period of time. This can be connected with human migration.[95]

Hybridization, genetic pollution/erosion and food security

The Yecoro wheat (right) cultivar is sensitive to salinity, plants resulting from a hybrid cross with cultivar W4910 (left) show greater tolerance to high salinity

In agriculture and animal husbandry, the Green Revolution popularized the use of conventional hybridization to increase yield. Often hybridized breeds originated in developed countries and were further hybridized with local varieties in the developing world to create high yield strains resistant to local climate and diseases. Local governments and industry have been pushing hybridization. Formerly huge gene pools of various wild and indigenous breeds have collapsed causing widespread genetic erosion and genetic pollution. This has resulted in loss of genetic diversity and biodiversity as a whole.[96]

(GM organisms) have genetic material altered by genetic engineering procedures such as recombinant DNA technology. GM crops have become a common source for genetic pollution, not only of wild varieties but also of domesticated varieties derived from classical hybridization.[97][98][99][100][101]

Genetic erosion coupled with genetic pollution may be destroying unique genotypes, thereby creating a hidden crisis which could result in a severe threat to our food security. Diverse genetic material could cease to exist which would impact our ability to further hybridize food crops and livestock against more resistant diseases and climatic changes.[96]

Climate Change

Polar bears on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean, near the North Pole. Climate change has started affecting bear populations.

Global warming is also considered to be a major threat to global biodiversity.[citation needed] For example coral reefs -which are biodiversity hotspots- will be lost in 20 to 40 years if global warming continues at the current trend.[102]

In 2004, an international collaborative study on four continents estimated that 10 percent of species would become extinct by 2050 because of global warming. "We need to limit climate change or we wind up with a lot of species in trouble, possibly extinct," said Dr. Lee Hannah, a co-author of the paper and chief climate change biologist at the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science at Conservation International.[103]


From 1950 to 2011, world population increased from 2.5 billion to 7 billion and is forecast to reach a plateau of more than 9 billion during the 21st century.[104] Sir David King, former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, told a parliamentary inquiry: "It is self-evident that the massive growth in the human population through the 20th century has had more impact on biodiversity than any other single factor."[105][106]

The Holocene extinction

Rates of decline in biodiversity in this sixth mass extinction match or exceed rates of loss in the five previous mass extinction events in the fossil record.[107][108][109][110][111] Loss of biodiversity results in the loss of natural capital that supplies ecosystem goods and services. The economic value of 17 ecosystem services for Earth's biosphere (calculated in 1997) has an estimated value of US$ 33 trillion (3.3x1013) per year.[112]


A schematic image illustrating the relationship between biodiversity, ecosystem services, human well-being, and poverty.[113] The illustration shows where conservation action, strategies and plans can influence the drivers of the current biodiversity crisis at local, regional, to global scales.
The retreat of Aletsch Glacier in the Swiss Alps (situation in 1979, 1991 and 2002), due to global warming.

Conservation biology matured in the mid-20th century as ecologists, naturalists, and other scientists began to research and address issues pertaining to global biodiversity declines.[114][115][116]

The conservation ethic advocates management of natural resources for the purpose of sustaining biodiversity in species, ecosystems, the evolutionary process, and human culture and society.[107][114][116][117][118]

Conservation biology is reforming around strategic plans to protect biodiversity.[114][119][120] Preserving global biodiversity is a priority in strategic conservation plans that are designed to engage public policy and concerns affecting local, regional and global scales of communities, ecosystems, and cultures.[121] Action plans identify ways of sustaining human well-being, employing natural capital, market capital, and ecosystem services.[122][123]

Protection and restoration techniques

Exotic species removal allows less competitive species to recover their ecological niches. Exotic species that have become a pest can be identified taxonomically (e.g. with Digital Automated Identification SYstem (DAISY), using the barcode of life.[124][125] Removal is practical only given large groups of individuals due to the econimic cost.

Once the preservation of the remaining native species in an area is assured. "missing" species can be identified and reintroduced using databases such as the Encyclopedia of Life and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

  • Biodiversity banking places a monetary value on biodiversity. One example is the Australian Native Vegetation Management Framework.
  • Gene banks are collections of specimens and genetic material. Some banks intend to reintroduce banked species to the ecosystem (e.g. via tree nurseries).[126]
  • Reducing and better targeting of pesticides allows more species to survive in agricultural and urbanized areas.
  • Location-specific approaches are less useful for protecting migratory species. One approach is to create wildlife corridors that correspond to the animals' movements. National and other boundaries can complicate corridor creation.[citation needed]

Resource allocation

Focusing on limited areas of higher potential biodiversity promises greater immediate return on investment than spreading resources evenly or focusing on areas of little diversity but greater interest in biodiversity.

A second strategy focuses on areas that retain most of their original diversity, which typically require little or no restoration. These are typically non-urbanized, non-agricultural areas. Tropical areas often fit both criteria, given their natively high diversity and relative lack of development.[127]

Legal status

A great deal of work is occurring to preserve the natural characteristics of Hopetoun Falls, Australia while continuing to allow visitor access.

Biodiversity is taken into account in some political and judicial decisions:

  • The relationship between law and ecosystems is very ancient and has consequences for biodiversity. It is related to private and public property rights. It can define protection for threatened ecosystems, but also some rights and duties (for example, fishing and hunting rights).[citation needed]
  • Law regarding species is more recent. It defines species that must be protected because they may be threatened by extinction. The U.S. Endangered Species Act is an example of an attempt to address the "law and species" issue.
  • Laws regarding gene pools are only about a century old.[citation needed] Domestication and plant breeding methods are not new, but advances in genetic engineering has led to tighter laws covering distribution of genetically modified organisms, gene patents and process patents.[128] Governments struggle to decide whether to focus on for example, genes, genomes, or organisms and species.[citation needed]

Global agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity), give "sovereign national rights over biological resources" (not property). The agreements commit countries to "conserve biodiversity", "develop resources for sustainability" and "share the benefits" resulting from their use. Biodiverse countries that allow bioprospecting or collection of natural products, expect a share of the benefits rather than allowing the individual or institution that discovers/exploits the resource to capture them privately. Bioprospecting can become a type of biopiracy when such principles are not respected.[citation needed]

Sovereignty principles can rely upon what is better known as Access and Benefit Sharing Agreements (ABAs). The Convention on Biodiversity implies informed consent between the source country and the collector, to establish which resource will be used and for what, and to settle on a fair agreement on benefit sharing.

Uniform approval for use of biodiversity as a legal standard has not been achieved, however. Bosselman argues that biodiversity should not be used as a legal standard, claiming that the remaining areas of scientific uncertainty cause unacceptable administrative waste and increase litigation without promoting preservation goals.[129]

Analytical limits

Taxonomic and size relationships

Less than 1% of all species that have been described have been studied beyond simply noting their existence.[130] The vast majority of Earth's species are microbial. Contemporary biodiversity physics is "firmly fixated on the visible [macroscopic] world".[131] For example, microbial life is metabolically and environmentally more diverse than multicellular life (see e.g., extremophile). "On the tree of life, based on analyses of small-subunit ribosomal RNA, visible life consists of barely noticeable twigs. The inverse relationship of size and population recurs higher on the evolutionary ladder—"to a first approximation, all multicellular species on Earth are insects".[132] Insect extinction rates are high—supporting the Holocene extinction hypothesis.[133][134]

See also

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