Posted by Nina Zitani and Greg Thorn, 3 April 2011; Updated 9 June 2014
Biodiversity is all of Earth's life, or the tremendous
variety of life on Earth. It has three essential
components: 1) all of the species on the planet, 2) the genetic diversity within the individuals of each species,
and 3) the habitats and ecosystems in which species live.
1) Species. From the thousands of species in our oceans, to soil microbes, land plants, fungi, animals, and more, one component of biodiversity is all of the species on the planet. You will have undoubtedly noticed a picture of a child in the slide show. As a biological species that evolved on Earth, humans (Homo sapiens) are a part of biodiversity. We are just one of the approximately 1.7 million described, or known species. Estimates of the total number of species (the described species plus the undescribed, or unknown species) range from several million to tens of millions. Even if the conservative estimates are true, currently we have a name for only about 1/2 of all species. If the higher estimates are true, then we have a name for even less, perhaps only 1/4, 1/6, 1/8, or (?) of all species on Earth.
A population of Japanese cranes (Hokkaido, Japan, photo RG Thorn)
2) Diversity within Species. Biodiversity also includes all of the variation found within species. Many individuals of a single species represent more biodiversity than just a few individuals of that same species. The conservation implications are that we need to protect entire populations - not just several individuals of each species.
"The whole is more than the sum of its parts". - Aristotle
3) Habitats and Ecosystems. Aristotle'swell-used phrase is applicable to many things, including natural habitats and ecosystems, arguably the most important part of biodiversity. It is well-known that species do not live in isolation in nature. Groups of species live in communities, and communities of species interact with abiotic (non-living) aspects of our environment (such as climate and soils) to form habitats and ecosystems. We advocate for more protection of biodiversity at the habitat/ecosystem level both locally and globally. And we encourage you to create a biodiversity garden on your property today. What are you waiting for?
More on Biodiversity...
"Because scientists have yet to put names on most kinds of organisms, and because they entertain only a vague idea of how ecosystems work, it is reckless to suppose that biodiversity can be diminished indefinitely without threatening humanity itself." - Edward O. Wilson
The term "biodiversity" was introduced to the English language by Edward O. Wilson in 1988 when he edited the book Biodiversity,
the proceedings of the first US conference on the subject. To learn
more about biodiversity from Wilson himself, start with the E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation
arose on Earth through the process of evolution. To learn more about
biodiversity and the scientific theory of evolution check out the excellent website Understanding Evolution
is the science of biodiversity. Systematists worldwide are working on
understanding biodiversity by elucidating the evolutionary relationships
between species, and groups of species. To learn more, see the
extraordinary Tree of Life Web Project