What is biodiversity?
‘Nature’ and ‘biodiversity’ are words often used to mean the same thing. But what do we mean when we use them?
The term ‘biodiversity’ describes the variety of life on earth. A simple way to remember it is to think of it as the diversity of the biology on earth.
Biodiversity includes variety on many levels:
- The number of different species of plants and animals
- The genetic diversity within and between these different species
- The diversity within the different biomes, ecosystems and habitats that these plants and animals are a part of.
Biodiversity also includes the diversity within microscopic organisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi. There is biodiversity within species that we can’t even see – for example, there are more living organisms in a tablespoon of soil than there are people on earth.
Nature does a lot for us. It’s silent, but brilliant. That’s why the decline in nature is so worrying. We exist within a complex web of other organisms, that work in a way to keep natural processes running and provide us with what we need to survive.
The ‘services’ that nature provides us are known as ‘ecosystem services’. Check out this video for more information.
Whilst it seems a fancy name, ecosystem services are just the services that nature provides. Simple – and essential.
Water Quality: What can we do without water? Healthy freshwater ecosystems – like wetlands – naturally clean pollution and toxins from water. Soils, microorganisms and plant roots also play a role in filtering and recycling out pollutants – they’re much cheaper than building a water filtration plant.
Food Security: Insects, birds and even some mammals pollinate the world’s plants, that we eat every day. In agriculture, ‘pollinators’ are required for hundreds of crops, and fisheries provide us with fresh food. Additionally, the loss, or even decline, of pest-eating predators can have massive impacts on agriculture and ecosystems.
Nutrient Cycles: All living organisms (plants and animals) require nutrients from their environment in order to survive. In order to keep nutrient cycles going, we must preserve and enhance ecosystems.
Health and Medicine: Studies show that spending time in nature has multiple physical and mental health benefits. Additionally, nature is our greatest medicine cabinet; it has provided us with a multitude of life saving medicines throughout history.
Climate Regulation: The natural world helps regulate the earth’s climate. Woodland, peatland and seagrass all store significant amounts of carbon, removing it from the atmosphere, making them an essential component of our fight against climate change.
Economy: Without fertile soils, clean drinking water, healthy forests, and a stable climate, the world’s economy would face disaster. By destroying our environment, we put our economy and livelihoods at risk.