What is Biodiversity?

Biodiversity is a word that describes the variety of living things. “Bio” (from a Greek word) refers to living and “diversity” refers to differences and variety. Living organisms express their diversity in hundreds of different ways – both external and visible and internal and invisible.

There is genetic diversity within a species, which results in the differences between you and your brothers and sisters and cousins and grandparents even though we all members of the human race – the species Homo sapiens. Genetic diversity means that an Ethiopian looks different from a Scandinavian or a Japanese person and that inherited diseases run in some families, but not in others. Genetic diversity is the reason why Siamese cats have different body shape and hair colouring from the black and white moggy next door.

There is evolutionary diversity, which has given rise to all the different species of animals and plants on this Earth and is genetic diversity on a wider scale. This is also known as species diversity.

Each species is adapted – and sometimes highly specialised – to survive in a particular environment or range of environments. Only the human species, through cultural and racial diversity and technology, seems to have adapted itself to survive in almost every environment on Earth.

Ecologists call the role a species plays in its environment a “niche” – like an actor playing the villain, the hero or the comic, in a play. The role may be that of a plant colonising bare ground, a caterpillar consuming that plant or a wasp preying on the caterpillar. Because there are so many possible niches in all the vast inhabitable areas of the Earth, millions of species have evolved to fill them. Hence the wonderful ecosystem diversity of the planet.

Adaptation by different species to widely separated, but similar types of environments and niches has led to convergent evolution, where organisms have a similar life style and appearance but are not related. The diversity is there despite superficial similarities.

Lastly, there is cultural diversity, which people will argue is not part of biodiversity. But if you think of it as being the result of evolution and adaptation then surely it is. It applies mostly to us – Homo sapiens – and is something learned from family, tribal and national groups. Cultural diversity helps the survival process by binding groups together and passing on traditions which help people live in their local environment.

In 1992 the world’s government leaders met at a convention in Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil – the country that holds the largest, but fast disappearing, rainforest. The purpose of the convention was to discuss the growing concern, amongst scientists of all nations, about the rapid extinction of the world’s non-human fauna and flora, the depletion of the world’s resources and the causes and effects of global warming. Various decisions were made, out of which arose the UK’s Local Agenda 21 and the Biodiversity Action Plan.

In July 1997, the World’s leaders met again, to look at where they had got in terms of reducing the so-called Greenhouse Gases which cause global warming. Not very far, it seems. I am not sure that they are that much further forward now ~ 2012.

How can we study the biodiversity around us?

  1. One way is to keep a Nature Diary.
  2. Another is to use the InterNet.

Naturenet : is a good place to start.