What is Biodiversity?
Biodiversity is the diversity of life in an area. There are three kinds of biodiversity. One type is genetic diversity which is the diversity of genes in a species. Species need certain genes to survive. If the diversity is lacking, the species may die, and its numbers will diminish. Species diversity (another kind of biodiversity) is the variety of living things in areas such as rainforests, reefs, deserts, tundra, etc. The last type of biodiversity is ecological diversity. It’s the complexity and richness of an entire ecosystem.
Why is Biodiversity Important?
Biodiversity increases ecosystem productivity; all of the species in that ecosystem, no matter their size, have a big role. A diverse ecosystem can prevent and recover from lots of disasters. Humans depend on plants and animals. For example, one quarter of all prescription medicines in the U.S. have ingredients from plants. If a diverse ecosystem is more productive, it's easier to get these plants.
Humans also directly benefit from a diverse ecosystem: plants, clean water and air, provide oxygen, and control erosion.
Here are some of the major ways biodiversity helps humans:
- Plants absorb greenhouse gases and help stop global warming.
- It is easier for biodiverse ecosystems to recover from natural disasters.
- Healthy biodiversity of species can provide a variety of food (like meat and produce).
- Many of our medicinal drugs come from plants.
- All of our wood products come from nature.
- We can learn more about our earth by observing a diverse ecosystem.
- Many recreational areas benefit from a healthy ecosystem, which promotes tourism.
- Biodiversity is beautiful and should be enjoyed.
These values are free to us, but as we lose biodiversity the cost of replacing these (if even possible) would be very high!
What Are the Threats to Biodiversity?
There are a lot of threats to biodiversity. We have links to almost all of these on our Threats page. Here are some of the major threats:
- Using up natural resources before they can be renewed (over-fishing in oceans, or over-harvesting trees on land)
- Habitat destruction like clearing forests or draining wetlands for towns or agricultural purposes
- Releasing invasive species into foreign ecosystems (like the cane toad in Australia or the zebra mussel in the Great Lakes)
- Any kind of pollution (water, air, soil, etc).
- Failure of food chains
Those are some of the big threats to biodiversity, and some of those are threats to other things, too. For example, using up natural resources can hurt the world's economy.
Where is Biodiversity Found?
Biodiversity is found wherever there is life which is all around the world. However, some parts of the world are more biologically diverse than others. For example, the Great Barrier Reef contains many different species: 1500 fish, 350 kinds of hard coral, 5000-8000 mollusks, 22 species of sea birds, and many more animals species. Over 30 different species of marine mammals and 6 species of sea turtles are listed as threatened.
In the Amazon Rainforest, over 500 kinds of mammals, 175 lizards and over 300 reptile species live there. About 1/3 of the world's birds live there and about 30,000,000 insect types can be found there.
The African Savannah has about 45 species of mammals, about 500 bird species, and 55 species of acacia (plants that are shrub-like). The savannah has the largest diversity of hoofed animals in the whole world. Overall, biodiversity is found all over the world, and even in your own backyard.
How Can You Help?
Here are a few things you can do to help biodiversity (there are more on other parts of our site).
- Put out bird feeders, bird bathes, and houses.
- Put up a bat house.
- Be careful not to buy coral, ivory, or tortoise shell products. They come from endangered species.
- You can volunteer at a nature center, park, or a zoo.
- Add mulch to soil to prevent erosion.
- Composting can add nutrients to your soil.
- Buy organic produce.
- Don’t use pesticides; they can kill plants and animals.
- Stop junk mail to save paper and protect our forests.
- When renovating your house, buy FSC approved wood, because it is harvested in ways that don’t harm the forests.
- Use cloth napkins.
- Recycle old newspaper and buy recycled paper products.
- Use e-mail since it saves paper.
- You should always use eco-friendly cleaning products.