Folder About Biodiversity

What is Biodiversity?

There are many definitions of biodiversity.  However, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity definition that was officially accepted by the 188 member countries is the most frequently cited:

"Biological diversity means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems."

Biodiversity today is the outcome of billions of years of evolution.  This diversity includes the wide variety of plants, animals, and microorganisms.  Biodiversity also includes genetic differences within each species.  Chromosomes, genes, and DNA determine the uniqueness of each individual and each species.  Yet another aspect of biodiversity is the variety of ecosystems such as those that occur in deserts, forests, wetlands, mountains, lakes, rivers, and agricultural landscapes.  In each ecosystem, living creatures, including humans, form a community, interacting with one another and within the air, water, and soil around them.  

At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, world leaders agreed on a comprehensive strategy for 'sustainable development' - meeting our needs while ensuring that we leave a healthy and viable world for future generations.  One of those key agreements adopted at Rio was the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). 

The three main goals of the CBD:

  • the conservation of biological diversity;
  • the sustainable use of its components; and
  • the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources.

The CBD defines sustainable use as the:

"Use of components of biological diversity in a way and at a rate that does not lead to the long-term decline of biological diversity, thereby maintaining its potential to meet the needs and aspirations of present and future generations."

Importance of Biodiversity

Biodiversity is the web to which all life depends.  It provides a large number of goods and services that sustain our lives.  For example, biodiversity of inland waters is a source of food, income, and livelihood for many of the world's population.  Other values of inland water ecosystems include water supply, energy production, transport, recreation and tourism, maintenance of the hydrological balance, retention of sediments and nutrients, and provision of habitats for various fauna and flora.  These are goods and services offered by inland water ecosystems.  There are many other types of ecosystems that offer a plethoria of goods and services that sustain life.     

The CBD publication 'Sustaining Life on Earth - How the Convention on Biological Diversity promotes nature and human well-being' provides an in-depth overview of the importance of biodiversity.  The publication lists the following goods and services provided by ecosystems.

  • Provision for food, fuel, and fiber
  • Provision of shelter and building materials
  • Purification of air and water
  • Detoxification and decomposition of wastes
  • Stabilization and moderation of the Earth's climate
  • Moderation of floods, droughts, temperature extremes and the forces of wind
  • Generation and renewal of soil fertility, including nutrient cycling
  • Pollination of plants, including many crops
  • Control of pests and diseases
  • Maintenance of genetic resources as key inputs to crop varieties and livestock breeds, medicines, and other products
  • Cultural and aesthetic benefits
  • Ability to adapt to change

The World Resources Institute Valuing Ecosystem Services study asks what are Mother Nature's life-support services worth?  The study shows just how much we depend on ecosystem goods and services in our everyday lives.  Without fertile soil, fresh water, breathable air, and an amenable climate our economies, social structure, and very existence will collapse. 

In one of the first efforts to calculate a global number, a team of researchers from the United States, Argentina, and the Netherlands has put an average price tag of US$33 trillion a year on these fundamental ecosystem services, which are largely taken for granted because they are free. That is nearly twice the value of the global gross national product (GNP) of US$18 trillion. (See How Much Are Nature's Services Worth? and Ecosystems Services: Free, But Valuable.)

Folder Biodiversity Loss
Folder Biodiversity Trends
Folder Effects of Biodiversity Loss