What is Biodiversity? The Ultimate Guide

Biodiversity improves nature sustainability. The three types of biodiversity are Genetic Diversity, Species Diversity, Ecosystem Diversity.

Introduction

Biodiversity is a common enough word that almost every one of us has heard it before. We know it concerns the many forms of life on Earth, existing in many parts of the world, especially the recent events and concerns of the pandemic, ensuring adequate food and water, promoting sustainable development. But what does biodiversity mean and why should it matter to us?

In this article, we’re going to explore biodiversity in depth. We will discover what biodiversity means, why is it important to humans, and we’re going to learn the different types of biodiversity and why each of them plays a vital role in our lives and world.

At the end of this article, we hope that you’re able to identify the different types of biodiversity and come to see why biodiversity affects every one of us. Biodiversity is one type of diversity that affect our sustainability. Not only that, we hope you’ll understand why we need to make sure we do our part in maintaining a healthy and robust biodiversity.

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What is Biodiversity?

When you’re talking about the various types of life and its variabilities on Earth, you’re essentially talking about biodiversity. It’s the diverse biological life and elements we have on this Earth. It’s typically measured at three levels i.e. genetic, species, and ecosystem.

The variability of life on Earth includes all forms of organism, terrestrial or marine, and other aquatic ecosystems and their ecological complexes. Not only that, but it also includes the diversity within each species itself.

Each ecosystem plays a vital role in the foundation makeup of our world and critically contributes to our wellbeing. For example, in the ocean, we care about marine biodiversity.

This dynamic synthesis is known as biodiversity. It’s complex and varied where each component is unique yet able to work harmoniously in an environment known as the biosphere. The biosphere is the summation of every self-regulating ecosystem where all life thrives.

Why does Biodiversity matter?

Biodiversity is our solution to Nature Sustainability. Everything we need to function as human beings depends on how healthy biodiversity is. This means everything and anything from what we drink to what we eat even to the air we breathe. However, at this moment, biodiversity is under threat and we have no one else to blame but us. We are doing our best to avoid a biodiversity crisis.

Coined in 1985, biodiversity describes the complexity of all life forms and their interactions. These interactions are what made our Earth habitable for many billions of years. But it’s facing a potentially fatal catastrophe due to human activities.

For instance, we may not think much of or even care for mosquitoes or roaches, but these insects have their vital role in biodiversity. Animals such as cats or rats may seem to us like they have little to do in maintaining the balance in biodiversity, but we’d be wrong.

Without mosquitoes playing their part as food to many other bigger insects or acting as a filter to the plants’ detritus or even helping pollination, the Earth’s biodiversity can be thrown off balance. This in turn will spell disaster for other life forms that depend on this interaction.

Even pesky animals such as rats play a role in maintaining biodiversity. Not only do they serve as food to other animals such as owls, but they also help balance the structure of the predatory ecosystem. Losing an element within biodiversity can be damaging to the entire system.

We as human always concern our natural rights, we should also concern about nature’s natural rights as well. We share our planet with them and we shouldn’t take out their rights to be on this planet.

Other than protecting the rights of life forms to exist, we also need to consider the continuation of our species within robust biodiversity. Certain sources on Earth are not renewable, so protecting and maintaining biodiversity can help to ensure we’re able to exist as a species.

In recent times, there have been many threats to our biodiversity. Many species have now been classified as endangered or rare. Scientists are warning us about the high risk of losing more animals to human activities if conservation efforts are not done in earnest.

If one component of biodiversity is gone, it may take decades before the imbalance is regulated for the biosphere environment to work harmoniously again. Many forms of life can be severely affected during this recovery process.

How does Biodiversity benefit human health?

When a species goes extinct, there’s no natural way to bring them back. Even though scientists may use cloning, there’s nothing we can do about it once a species becomes extinct.

As humans, we want to have the chance to live a long life that’s free from any illnesses or diseases. To be able to do this, we need to be able to eat healthy food and lead a healthy lifestyle. This won’t be possible if the world experiences a loss in biodiversity.

Biodiversity acts as the foundation for our health because the ecosystems’ functions provide us with freshwater and food. Furthermore, robust and healthy biodiversity regulates climate and diseases, keeping the world in balance for us to lead healthy lives.

Other than that, any kind of change in the ecosystem will affect the livelihood and income of many people within society. This, in turn, will have direct consequences on their lives and health since they’re not able to sustain themselves with the most basic needs.

There are many threats to the biodiversity crisis such as deforestation, habitat destruction, overfishing, and overpopulation. Even though our dependence on biodiversity may not always be obvious, our activities are doing more harm than good in maintaining it.

For us to be able to continue to survive as a species, we need to make sure we take care of our biodiversity and do everything we could in protecting it. We need to reevaluate how we conduct our activities and strive towards a greener and more sustainable environment.

Types of Biodiversity

It’s a wonderful and awe-inspiring fact to know that we share this world with a multitude of other species. As mentioned earlier, there are three levels of biodiversity. Each level works in a seamless symbiosis that benefits every single living thing on Earth.

The three types of Biodiversity is Genetic Diversity, Species Diversity, and Ecosystem Diversity.

Though the species and organisms in each level may vary from each other, they too form important interactions that have bigger ripple effects on other species and organisms. Note: Types of biodiversity is different from our human definition of diversity types.

In this part, we’ll take a look at each type of biodiversity to better understand it and its significance.

Genetic Diversity

Genetic Diversity
Photo by Edward Jenner from Pexels

Genetic diversity refers to the variability within the genetic pool of the organisms. It’s the sum of all genetic characteristics in the species’ makeup. It includes not only the wide range of species but also the diversity within one species.

Each species consisted of individuals that possess their unique genetic composition. Genetic diversity has different populations with each population having different genetic makeup. Genetic diversity within a species helps to ensure that species’ long-term survival.

Each of the individual species has genes that are the source of its unique characteristics and features. For instance, genetic diversity is the reason why human beings look different from one another even though they’re from the same family, culture, or race.

There are several hypotheses and theories about genetic diversity in the population genetics field. The theory of evolution deems diversity as the result of the cumulative process of neutral exchange. The higher rate of neutral exchange within a population can contribute to a more heterogeneous genetic diversity.

Why is genetic diversity important?

Genetic diversity acts as a way for populations to adapt and respond to changing conditions and environments. All species on Earth thrive through survival and adaptation.

Some individuals within a population may have higher tolerance toward damage and pollutants in the environment, while some may suffer and die. The different levels of tolerance are due to the different types of genes within the individual.

The huge variety of gene sets allow different individuals to thrive and survive in the same environmental conditions. The greater the variety, the better chances a species has to survive even though many of its individuals may not.

With more variations in the genetic pool, individuals are more likely to possess different types of alleles that are suitable for the environment around them. Through this, the species is more likely to survive and in turn, produce offspring with similar alleles.

The ability of a population to respond, react, and adapt to the changing environment depends on the presence of the necessary and required genetic diversity. Genetic diversity ensures the longevity of a species on Earth.

It allows their species to continue for many generations because they possess higher tolerance to the stress from the environment.

How does crossing over contribute to genetic diversity?

Crossing over is the swapping of chromosome segments. It creates new combinations in the gene makeup of the gametes, the reproductive cells of organisms, which are not present in either parent. This process is also known as recombination.

An individual in each species possesses body cells made up of pairs of each chromosome. In each pair, one part comes from the mother, and another part is from the father. The formation of each gene is called alleles. These alleles may be different in each pair of chromosomes.

By crossing over or recombining these chromosome segments, scientists can contribute to genetic diversity. Since this process alters the gene makeup, it creates more variations within the gene pool.

Crossing over aims to maintain genetic diversity within a population by allowing nearly infinite gene combinations and recombination possibilities. This helps to maintain and encourage a population’s genetic diversity.

The higher the genetic diversity within a species is, the better chance it has for long-term survival. If a population reproduce among its members only, negative traits such as disorders or inherited diseases will become widespread within that population, causing it to go extinct sooner or later.

Crossing over doesn’t just ensure the variability of individuals within a species. It contributes to the evolutionary importance of said species. It allows a species to adapt better to changing environments and it also helps to allow small populations to grow and thrive.

A larger population may have a better chance of survival since they have a higher rate of genetic diversity. Small populations may become extinct because they experience a higher loss of diversity. Crossing over helps to enrich the diversity within small populations so they too have a chance at long-term survival.

Furthermore, genetic crossing over also contributes to agriculture genetic diversity.

As human relies on crops for food, crossing over can help farmers grow better and healthier crops. Agriculture selective breeding allows farmers to pass on valuable traits of the crops while removing the unwanted ones.

The new crossed over crops yield better produces and thus allowing humans and animals to consume better food that contributes to their overall health. Crops are more susceptible to diseases and bacterial growth if there is genetic diversity in agriculture.

Not just in crops, crossing over in genetic diversity in livestock is also important. Many farmers rely on animal husbandry for livelihood. It’s the care and management of farm animals where genetic diversity plays an important role and is highly advantageous in agriculture.

Crossovers can shuffle the alleles combination so each pair of chromosomes will have both good alleles. When the good pair competes with a pair that has bad alleles, the good pair will win over in the genetic diversity in future generations.

Since the environment is always changing, both naturally and due to human activities, species constantly need to thrive to survive. By crossing over genetics, the good alleles in the chromosomes allow the species to adapt better and be healthier. Even though some of the offspring will die, genetic crossovers increase the chance of a species’ survival.

How does having a diverse gene pool help a species survive?

As mentioned, when a species is extinct, it’s almost impossible for it to come back. While there are scientific processes that try to make this possible, extinction is the ultimate end for many species.

Since biodiversity is crucial for the survival of all species on Earth, having a diverse gene pool can help a species survive. The offspring of that species has better chances of living longer life and fight off inherited diseases.

Species with a limited range of phenotypes where all individuals of the species are genetically similar to one another have a poorer chance of dealing with changes in the environment. Conversely, a species with a wide range of phenotypes can adapt better and thus increase their survival rate.

This is why the survival and longevity of their progeny can be compromised if a population chooses to reproduce among its own members only. There is no diversity to help the good genes survive. Genetic diversity is not just about the species’ ability to adapt to changing environments. It’s also about the quality of life it produces.

Even in a situation where a species has been living for a long time and seems to adapt well to the environment, it doesn’t mean the environment will remain stable. Any sudden changes can still happen, and these changes greatly affect a species’ ability to survive.

A population will modify itself to adapt to these environmental changes. If there’s limited genetic diversity within that population, it will restrict its ability to adapt or evolve. Sooner or later this failure will lead to the extinction of that population and by extension, its species.

Species diversity and species richness

Species Diversity Picture
Photo by Miriam Fischer from Pexels

Have you ever wondered just how many species there are on Earth? We know Earth is filled with wonderful creatures but sometimes we wonder exactly how many different living things there are out there.

According to the new estimate given by scientists, there exist about 8.7 million different species on Earth. However, many scientists also know and believe that this number is neither the ultimate nor it is the most accurate because there are still many more species that’re unknown to man and science.

This number of different species was predicted in a 2011 study and as of 2019, we’ve only discovered and identified just about 1.8 million. In short, we’ve only discovered about one-fifth of the estimated number. This should give us an idea of just how many different forms of life there are on Earth.

Species Diversity

Species diversity refers to the various numbers of species that are present within a specific community. Species diversity includes taxonomy or animal classification, its species richness, and phylogenetic diversity.

Species are most diverse in tropical rainforests or along the Equator. The exact reason why this is so is yet to be determined factually, but many scientists believe it’s due to the more favorable conditions of the Equator. The humidity in regions along the Equator allows more species to thrive.

Tropical rainforests cover only about 7% of the land on Earth, but nearly 50% of all species on Earth live here.

For example, in the rainforests of Costa Rica alone, there are more than 600 species of birds, over 1,200 butterfly species, thousands of different species of orchids, and many species of monkeys. These different species describe the diversity of species in Costa Rican rainforests.

Now, imagine the sheer number of other species in the rainforests in other countries. This huge number of species diversity contributes to the balance of the world’s biodiversity and the survival of many other species on Earth.

As we have discussed the importance of biodiversity in earlier parts, species diversity is directly related to maintaining Earth’s biodiversity. Each species, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, plays different roles in the ecosystem sustainability.

Having many different types of species doesn’t only provide humans with food. Species diversity also ensures the availability of clean water, fertile soils, breathable air, prevention of diseases, and climate stability.

Since each species work in many different ways to contribute to a healthy ecosystem, having flaws or a dwindle in species diversity can have serious repercussion to the environment.

The biosphere may not function as efficiently and it will take a longer time for natural processes to regulate itself to make the environment a livable condition for all life forms. Species diversity is not just a matter of encouraging more species to thrive and survive. It’s about the livelihood and survival of all living creatures and organisms on Earth.

Species richness

If species diversity is about the various types of species that exist in a particular community, species richness is about the number of each species living in said community. An area that’s rich in species means there’s a high number of animals of one species living in that location.

In other words, species richness refers to the number of individuals per species relative to the abundance of distribution evenness in an ecological community. For example, if there are 600 species of birds living in a certain rainforest and there 1,200 species of butterflies that live in the same rainforest, then the butterfly species is richer than the birds.

Compared to species diversity, species richness is simply about how many individuals that of the same species living in any given community.

There are various ways to observe the pattern of species richness. One way is to determine its geographic patterns. As we mentioned earlier, tropical rainforests are homes for many different types of species. Its humid condition makes an ideal condition for many forms of life to thrive.

To observe species richness, we consider one species in one rainforest in contrast to another rainforest that also has the same species.

For example, howler monkeys can be found in the rainforests of Brazil, northern Argentina, and Bolivia. But the number of howler monkeys in each rainforest differs and this describes their species richness in each rainforest.

Species richness is the most common metric used in ecology. It’s the yardstick by which we measure the health of our biodiversity. Species richness is important because it contributes to the stability of the ecosystem, which in turn helps to maintain biodiversity on Earth.

Not only that, but species richness is also a way to measure our ability and effort to conserve the natural world. Human activities harm many animals’ habitats. These activities decrease not only species richness, but also destroy species diversity.

To maintain Earth’s biodiversity, we need to ensure the continuation of species and encourage their richness.

Species Richness vs Species Evenness

While species richness refers to the number of individuals in each species, species evenness refers to the ratio of each species to one another. It measures the relative abundance of the various species in an area which makes up the species richness in that location. Species evenness is considered high when all species in a population have the same rate of abundance.

To illustrate this, let’s use our rainforest example again. Let’s say in two different rainforests, there are 8 different species of animals living in each rainforest. Both of these rainforests can be classified as having species richness.

However, upon further evaluation, one rainforest has equal proportions of individuals in each 8 species. Whereas in the second rainforest, one species dominates over the other 7 species. The first rainforest is considered the one with higher species evenness.

Both species evenness and species richness are the two main components of species diversity.

Species diversity is important in any ecological community or environment. An ecosystem is classified as diverse if it has a community of 10 species with equal distribution instead of having 10 species but with 90% of the individuals are of the same species.

Even though we’re familiar with the concept of “survival of the fittest” in the animal kingdom, each species needs each other more than we realize. They depend on each other as well on what each other contributes to the ecosystem.

In turn, species diversity in a healthy ecosystem contributes to the Earth’s biodiversity, helping all other life forms thrive.

Ecosystem Diversity

Ecosystem Diversity Image
Photo by Hung Tran

We have discussed two components of biodiversity. One is at the fundamental level of biodiversity that is genetic diversity and second is the next level that is species diversity. These variations describe the building blocks of life forms and the types of life forms on Earth.

All living creatures and organisms need a place to call home. Whether it’s in the rainforest, the ocean, or the desert, these environments become the place where life forms and organisms find refuge. These environments are known as ecosystem.

An ecosystem refers to a community within a certain physical environment where it occupies. Even though the word seems to describe something big, an ecosystem doesn’t need to be large for it to be an ecosystem for any community. In fact, an ecosystem can occur at any scale.

What is Ecosystem Diversity?

When talking about diversity in an ecosystem, larger physical environments or areas are often the focus. Areas such as rainforests, coral reefs, grasslands, or desserts are all different types of ecosystems.

Ecosystem diversity means the variety of ecosystems that exist within a given geographical area. It includes the diversity of habitat types, communities, and various ecological processes. All different types of species and communities coexist and interact in a particular harmony.

There are two related meanings when talking about ecosystem diversity. The first refers to the number of different ecosystems present in a certain area. And two, refers to the number of ecological processes and interactions among the life forms in a certain area.

Countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, and Australia are countries with rich ecosystem diversity. From rainforests to inland swamps to high mountain ranges to wide savannas, these countries have many ideal conditions for a wide variety of species to thrive in.

Generally, places with more different types of terrains have more ecosystem diversity than areas with homogenous topography. This is because ecosystem diversity depends on the various physical characteristics of a given environment.

Why is diversity important in an ecosystem?

A healthy ecosystem stems from rich biodiversity. An ecosystem will have a higher productivity rate and more robust ecological processes when more different life forms can thrive and survive. Since each species has a role to play, a diverse ecosystem allows them to interact and reach symbiosis.

The complex functionality of an ecosystem depends on the richness of species and its diversity. The balance within our biosphere can be disrupted when one ecosystem is flawed or destroyed. Although the ecosystems for many different species are often taken into account in terms of its larger scale, even the smallest life form in the smallest ecosystem plays an important role.

Every life form on Earth is dependent on one another no matter how long a species has survived or how well it can adapt to the environment. The reason why this species can survive and why it can adapt well is due to diversity.

Whether it’s genetic, species, or ecosystem, diversity is our lifeline and it has to be protected at all costs. The disruption in one can cause a chain reaction of catastrophe that will negatively impact everyone and everything.

Unfortunately, human activities are doing more harm than good in the preservation of our biodiversity. Even though more and more parties are making the effort to reduce our carbon footprints and work toward greener practices, we need more initiatives to ensure our biodiversity stays healthy and robust.

It’s not just humans who depend on biodiversity to survive. Every single life form and organism on Earth needs one another to thrive.

Diversity-Stability hypothesis

The Diversity-Stability Hypothesis is a common and popular hypothesis when discussing biodiversity. It relates to the correlation between diversity and stability of a community. The hypothesis states that the more a community is diverse, the more productive and stable the community is.

This is because when a community is productive and stable, the individuals within that community can utilize the resources better and much more efficiently. It doesn’t just focus on the richness of species within an ecosystem, but rather it evaluates the relationship between the species and the functions of the ecosystem.

Since each species within an ecosystem rely on each other for many aspects, it’s important for variability to exist in the community. Multiple dimensional relationships can exist and benefit each species when the species within that community can thrive.

Stability is important because it contributes to healthy biodiversity. Without healthy biodiversity, many types of life forms will suffer and may even become extinct.

What can we do to protect and encourage biodiversity?

There are millions of species on Earth and it can feel a little overwhelming if want to save them all. However, there are many things that we can do to protect and encourage biodiversity.

Since each species need each other and there’s no way to turn back the clock if one of them goes extinct, we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can. Whether it’s through individual efforts or collective community work, we can all work together towards conserving biodiversity.

Educate ourselves

One of the easiest ways to raise our awareness on conserving biodiversity is to educate ourselves about the environment and its issues. As we know, as much as it’s important to us, human activities do a lot of damage to the environment.

In order for us to concentrate our efforts to conserve biodiversity, we need to increase our awareness of what biodiversity loss does to us and to every other species on Earth. When we educate ourselves, we can relay important information to those around us.

We need to raise awareness as much as possible because currently, our biodiversity is under threat. More and more animal species are endangered. Species richness is dwindling. Species evenness is tipped off scale due to one species being more dominant than others.

We can become our own environmental advocates if we choose to be aware of the severe environmental issues that are happening around us. No matter how small our effort may seem, we need to tackle biodiversity loss head-on.

Participate in conservation efforts

Since biodiversity is affected almost everywhere around the globe, you can easily identify areas around you that need conservation efforts. Places such as wildlife conservation or tree planting estates are great places to start participating in conservation efforts.

You can contribute by volunteering at these places. The time and effort you invest in helping out at these places does more impact than you think. Not only you’re a part of a team that helps to prevent biodiversity loss, but you also get to witness the side effects of human activities have on this endangered wildlife and on the environment.

Even if there are no conservation centers near you, you can still do your part in conserving biodiversity.

Simple things such as using environmentally friendly products that are recyclable and biodegradable can go a long way in preventing biodiversity loss. Eradicating any unnecessary use of natural resources can have positive impacts on the environment and biodiversity.

Plant your own crops and flowers

Instead of buying from commercial producers, you can reduce carbon footprints in the environment by planting your own crops. You may not have a large farm or plot for your vegetables or flowers, but each plant helps to protect biodiversity.

Not only that, you can reduce the need to use chemical fertilizers when you plant your own vegetables and flowers. Many commercial producers use harmful and synthetic fertilizers, which is dangerous for insects and the environment.

Choosing to use natural fertilizers is a good option because they can be broken down by the plants and other animals, which in turn promotes a healthy relationship between all species. Not only that, natural fertilizers also don’t have negative side effects on human.

Manage the use of water

Water is one of nature’s most valuable resources. In many parts of the world, many people are struggling to get access to clean water. If you’re privileged enough to have access to clean water, then you shouldn’t take it for granted.

Even though 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, human and animals can only consume freshwater. And there’s only about 2.5% supply of freshwater. If we’re not careful, we will soon run out of freshwater supply and this can cause a major catastrophe.

We should try to save water and limit our water usage as much as possible. Things such as having a quick shower instead of long baths, or turning off the tap while we brush our teeth, can contribute towards water conservation.

Remember, we’re not the only ones on Earth who need water. We need to be mindful and careful of our water usage so other species are able to consume and use water as well.

Conclusion

It’s up to us as the most intelligent species on Earth to act in protecting biodiversity. We need to use our position of privilege to help other species thrive and survive. While our activities are doing the most damage to the environment, we’re also the ones who can control them.

Biodiversity loss is often irreparable and comes with devastating effects. We need to act now if we want to see our Earth continue for many more years to come and for our offspring to enjoy a green and healthy world.

Best Biodiversity, Genetic Diversity, Ecosystem Diversity, Species Diversity Resources

Biodiversity Video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rq-NN4cJca4
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About the author

Susanne Ricee

Susanne Ricee is the Diversity and Inclusion Specialist and Researcher at Diversity for Social Impact. Sue brings over 15 years of HR and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion consultation experience.
Sue's previous experience includes Microsoft, Target, and Kraft. Sue is also the manager of Diversity Leadership Directory