What is Biodiversity?2022-06-16T16:05:09+00:00

What is Biodiversity?

Image © Zana Briski
Home-Conserving nature-What is Biodiversity?

The fauna and flora that make up a myriad of habitats around the world have been compared to a library, each species a book containing unique and priceless knowledge. We are only just beginning to scrape the surface of the knowledge contained in this library: of the estimated 8-10 million species, only around 1.7 million have been catalogued and described. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ has assessed the extinction risk of all known mammals and birds, but, for example, only 1% of invertebrates.

The library of life on Earth contains a treasure trove of genetic diversity that holds untold secrets: around 10 per cent of Nobel prizes for medicine originate from research on amphibians alone. Nature has always fired our imaginations, been a subject of our stories, inspiring us with wonder and awe. It is deeply embedded in who we are. Whether we value nature for what it provides for us; for its intrinsic right to exist; for its wonder and beauty, or indeed for all of those reasons, there is an urgent need to act now to conserve Earth’s biodiversity for current and future generations.

“Each time a species goes extinct, it is like burning the last copy of a book. Once it is gone, the information it contained is lost forever. Earth’s greatest library is burning.”

– Richard L. Pyle

Biodiversity Loss: A Hidden Crisis

Our human footprint continues to degrade natural habitats at an unsustainable rate. The full impact on species and their habitats is often distant and hidden. Those threatened species that do make the news are just the tip of the iceberg. A vast array of less well-known and celebrated species are edging ever closer to extinction. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ quantifies the threat levels to species: it tells us that we are putting Earth’s ecosystems under severe pressure, yet we are only just beginning to learn more about the complex role species play in ecosystem health, and to understand the consequences of the impacts we are having on Earth’s biodiversity. The severity of these impacts is beyond doubt. The most recent Living Planet Report (WWF/ZSL, 2016), shows that, from a sample population of monitored species, vertebrate populations declined on average by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012 3. Meanwhile, the IUCN Red List Index paints a graphic picture of the downward trends in abundance of major species groups as they move closer towards extinction.

“We can think of biological diversity as the ‘infrastructure’ that supports all life on the planet. When we lose species through extinction, the web of life is destroyed and this in turn affects the resilience of the ecosystems and nature’s capacity to provide the services that humans benefit from – ensuring our food, the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the moments of peace and serenity we enjoy in nature.”

– Cristiana Pasca-Palmer, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

We believe that maintaining this infrastructure – conserving and restoring nature’s capacity to support us – is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Wherever we are losing species diversity and abundance, we are not just losing priceless volumes from Earth’s library of life, we are eroding humanity’s capacity to survive and thrive.

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