What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity or biological diversity, simply put, is the diverse nature found in any particular location. Every living thing in a given location counts, from the microbes in the soil, through the plant life to the animals. The more diverse, the more desirable.

What are the three areas of biodiversity?

Biodiversity is broken down into three main areas; genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem diversity (Australian Museum).  

Genetic diversity helps plants and animals adapt to their environment as mutations happen. For example Peppered Moths adapted, during the industrial revolution when there was a lot of smog, to have different shades of wing colour. Those with dark wings were more successful than those with light wings, which showed up against dark surfaces.. 

So, genetic diversity can happen within a species as well as across species. Most kangaroos have similar DNA, but Tasmanian devils (dasyurids) have greater genetic diversity across their population, even though they are all Tasmanian devils. This is because Tasmanian devils are of older evolution than kangaroos, which are a more recent species. 

Species diversity is the number of different plants and animals within a certain area. The most familiar example of this is the Amazon rainforest where an estimated 3 million species live, of which 2,500 are tree species (Greenpeace). The Amazon rainforest is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. 

Ecosystem diversity relates to the number of different ecosystems that are available. Ecosystems are any system where living things interact. They can be as simple as pond life, or as complex as coral reefs and rainforests. 

Megadiverse countries are those that have the highest levels of diversity. Twelve of the most megadiverse countries contain over 75% of the entire world’s biodiversity. These countries have a responsibility to the rest of the world to preserve it. 

Why does biodiversity matter? 

Biodiversity matters for a number of reasons. 

Economically, we rely on biodiversity for raw materials to make into products. For example, most of our medicines come from plants and the use for many plants haven’t yet been discovered. If those plants are cleared for farming or reduced to a point where they cannot regenerate, we may never make use of them and their potentially life saving properties. 

Farmers, foresters and fishermen depend on biodiversity. Ecosystems depend on maintaining a balance. Larger mammals need larger territories. If all the elephants are contained in a small area, they will strip the foliage from every tree and knock them over, obliterating the food for every other animal (including man). If one species of fish is the dominant predator for another or the predominant food for another, removing that species unbalances the population. 

We depend on biodiversity to live. When rainforest is cut down, the result is ever decreasing natural ecosystems which provide the clean air we breathe and keep the global temperature moderate by removing carbon from the atmosphere. As another example, the decimation of bee populations reduces pollination of crops and subsequently we produce less food. 

What can be done?

At a political level, the countries with the highest biodiversity – indeed all countries – need to take responsibility and preserve natural resources. At a business level, we can maintain sustainable sourcing and we can calculate our carbon footprint and support projects that offset our carbon emissions. 

Two examples of this – offset your vehicle emissions with Neutral Ignition. This project sequestered 67,653 tonnes of CO2 last year. Alternatively, seek advice from the Energy Saving Trust on ways that you can make your building more energy efficient or how to make your transportation low carbon.

At a personal level, we can lobby for wild zones in our local area, live sustainably, support sustainable businesses  and encourage bees in our gardens. There is so much that all of us can contribute to being part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. 

Find sustainable businesses to support in our directory.

Annette Clubley

Annette is a keen wildlife conservationist, mindful of sustainability and our impact on the environment. Outside of work, family is her focus and she loves teaching the next generation to enjoy the outdoors.