What is Biodiversity?
Updated: Nov 23, 2021
When we talk about climate change and environmental topics, we tend to throw around the term ‘biodiversity’ without knowing its true meaning, and in some cases, without being aware of its importance. It is common to see ecosystem and biodiversity used as interchangeable terms, yet this is an error in discourse.
In this Cheat Sheet, we’ll be looking at what biodiversity actually means, the threats being posed to Earth’s biodiversity, and what we can do as individuals to protect it.
What does biodiversity actually mean?
Biodiversity, or biological diversity, is the number and variety of species within a region, while ecosystems are communities made of the interconnectedness of organisms.
Biodiversity exists within an ecosystem or environment, and when it is threatened, it endangers everything around it. This is because all species live together in an interdependent network to maintain the health of an ecosystem. We need healthy ecosystems because they purify our water and air, regulate the environment and weather, and recycle nutrients.
The extinction Paradox
It is very paradoxical to think that the Earth’s biodiversity is so vast that there are many species yet to be discovered, and at the same time, there are many endangered and threatened. Around the world, there are places known as hotspots, which are biologically rich and equally endangered. Hotspots house endemic species and undiscovered species, and these 36 regions are heavily threatened by habitat loss and human activity. Conservation International reports that “species are going extinct at the fastest rate since the mass extinction of dinosaurs”.
There are currently 41,415 species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list, with 16,306 of them threatened with extinction, including flora and fauna. Species are considered endangered when their population has declined between 50 and 70 percent, or their population is restricted to less than 250 mature individuals. You can see a list of the 10 animals at most risk of extinction here.
On the other hand, Yale Researchers estimate that we have only discovered close to 20% of the world’s species. The race to find new species has become eminent to save those species at risk of extinction before they go extinct or become endangered. Mario Moura, a Yale postdoctoral associate who participated in the making of the Map of Life, has explained that not all species have the chance to be discovered early since those that live in remote areas or underwater are harder to get to. It is believed that Colombia, Brazil, Indonesia and Madagascar have the most opportunity for further discoveries due to their climate conditions and dense forests.
What is threatening Biodiversity?
It isn't rocket science; it’s obviously us. Human activity such as razing of wild areas for farmland and housing as population rises uncontrollably is one of the biggest reasons why many ecosystems are being reduced and, with them, biodiversity.
In addition, the pollution of oceans and land is killing animals that live in these environments. Long-lived industrial pollutants and , greenhouse gases, such as CO2, are responsible for half of the world’s current warming, while short-lived pollutants, such as methane and hydrofluorocarbons, make up the other half. These pollutants contribute to global warming which consequently impacts ecosystems and species living in it.
When temperatures and conditions change, this creates imbalance and obliges species to adapt., Tand those that don’t adapt, die. For example, migration patterns are changing in the Arctic due to climate change, since this area is warming up twice as fast as the global average. Also, some species have been migrating north, trying to survive the warm temperatures and extreme weather conditions that have led to changes in the food web and their ecosystem.
Is all hope lost?
Ever heard of wildlife reserves? Protected areas help safeguard species from human activity. However, the dilemma comes when we must choose between respecting wildlife or grazing a forest to allow for the development of urban areas. This is why reservoirs and national parks are only a part of the solution.
The consumption of products that are grown or raised in land that is cleared for this purpose leads to the loss of biodiversity, so changing our consumption patterns can have a massive impact. Also, buying products from local farms and markets helps give back to the community and, in turn, supports agricultural efforts to preserve biodiversity in the area.
Water is essential for biodiversity, so you can help maintain wetlands and sources of fresh water by conserving water in different ways. Taking shorter showers, not leaving water running and watering your plants mindfully are all ways to save water that is needed by ecosystems to preserve biodiversity.
Another easy way to help biodiversity is by lowering your carbon footprint and waste. Cities around the world are investing in reliable public transportation systems to reduce pollution from vehicles and investing in better building materials to reduce construction waste. Over 700 cities have vowed to halve their carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2050, with four UK cities leading on climate action: Bristol, Newcastle, Greater London and Bournemouth. These cities plan to reach net zero by investing in green energy and improving transport systems in efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. To contribute to the net-zero goal at an individual level, to contribute to the net-zero goal you can use alternative transportation to your car, be conscious about buying what you need to avoid waste, use energy efficiently and be mindful of your impact on the wildlife around you.
Biodiversity is key to helping our planet fight the climate crisis and the human species to adapt to climate change, so every little action counts!
For more information on this section, head over to our dedicated section on the Climate Crisis.
Edited by Amy Watts.