5.3: Importance of Biodiversity - Biology

5.3: Importance of Biodiversity - Biology

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The Biodiversity Crisis

Biologists estimate that species extinctions are currently 500–1000 times the normal, or background, rate seen previously in Earth’s history. Although it is sometimes difficult to predict which species will become extinct, many are listed as endangered (at great risk of extinction). Between 1970 and 2011, almost 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest was lost.

Biodiversity is a broad term for biological variety, and it can be measured at a number of organizational levels. Traditionally, ecologists have measured biodiversity by taking into account both the number of species and the number of individuals of each species (known as relative abundance). However, biologists are using different measures of biodiversity, including genetic diversity, to help focus efforts to preserve the biologically and technologically important elements of biodiversity.

Biodiversity loss refers to the reduction of biodiversity due to displacement or extinction of species. The loss of a particular individual species may seem unimportant to some, especially if it is not a charismatic species like the Bengal tiger or the bottlenose dolphin. However, the current accelerated extinction rate means the loss of tens of thousands of species within our lifetimes. Much of this loss is occurring in tropical rainforests like the one pictured in Figure (PageIndex{1}), which are very high in biodiversity but are being cleared for timber and agriculture. This is likely to have dramatic effects on human welfare through the collapse of ecosystems.

Biologists recognize that human populations are embedded in ecosystems and are dependent on them, just as is every other species on the planet. Agriculture began after early hunter-gatherer societies first settled in one place and heavily modified their immediate environment. This cultural transition has made it difficult for humans to recognize their dependence on living things other than crops and domesticated animals on the planet. Today our technology smooths out the harshness of existence and allows many of us to live longer, more comfortable lives, but ultimately the human species cannot exist without its surrounding ecosystems. Our ecosystems provide us with food, medicine, clean air and water, recreation, and spiritual and aesthetical inspiration.

Types of Biodiversity

A common meaning of biodiversity is simply the number of species in a location or on Earth; for example, the American Ornithologists’ Union lists 2078 species of birds in North and Central America. This is one measure of the bird biodiversity on the continent. More sophisticated measures of diversity take into account the relative abundances of species. For example, a forest with 10 equally common species of trees is more diverse than a forest that has 10 species of trees wherein just one of those species makes up 95 percent of the trees. Biologists have also identified alternate measures of biodiversity, some of which are important in planning how to preserve biodiversity.

Genetic diversity is one alternate concept of biodiversity. Genetic diversity is the raw material for evolutionary adaptation in a species and is represented by the variety of genes present within a population. A species’ potential to adapt to changing environments or new diseases depends on this genetic diversity.

It is also useful to define ecosystem diversity: the number of different ecosystems on Earth or in a geographical area. The loss of an ecosystem means the loss of the interactions between species and the loss of biological productivity that an ecosystem is able to create. An example of a largely extinct ecosystem in North America is the prairie ecosystem (Figure (PageIndex{2})). Prairies once spanned central North America from the boreal forest in northern Canada down into Mexico. They are now all but gone, replaced by crop fields, pasture lands, and suburban sprawl. Many of the species survive, but the hugely productive ecosystem that was responsible for creating our most productive agricultural soils is now gone. As a consequence, their soils are now being depleted unless they are maintained artificially at great expense. The decline in soil productivity occurs because the interactions in the original ecosystem have been lost.

Current Species Diversity

Despite considerable effort, knowledge of the species that inhabit the planet is limited. A recent estimate suggests that only 13% of eukaryotic species have been named (Table 1). Estimates of numbers of prokaryotic species are largely guesses, but biologists agree that science has only just begun to catalog their diversity. Given that Earth is losing species at an accelerating pace, science knows little about what is being lost.

Table 1. This table shows the estimated number of species by taxonomic group—including both described (named and studied) and predicted (yet to be named) species.
Estimated Numbers of Described and Predicted species
Source: Mora et al 2011Source: Chapman 2009Source: Groombridge and Jenkins 2002
Photosynthetic protists17,89234,90025,044200,500
Non-photosynthetic protists16,23672,80028,8711,000,00080,000600,000

There are various initiatives to catalog described species in accessible and more organized ways, and the internet is facilitating that effort. Nevertheless, at the current rate of species description, which according to the State of Observed Species1 reports is 17,000–20,000 new species a year, it would take close to 500 years to describe all of the species currently in existence. The task, however, is becoming increasingly impossible over time as extinction removes species from Earth faster than they can be described.

Naming and counting species may seem an unimportant pursuit given the other needs of humanity, but it is not simply an accounting. Describing species is a complex process by which biologists determine an organism’s unique characteristics and whether or not that organism belongs to any other described species. It allows biologists to find and recognize the species after the initial discovery to follow up on questions about its biology. That subsequent research will produce the discoveries that make the species valuable to humans and to our ecosystems. Without a name and description, a species cannot be studied in depth and in a coordinated way by multiple scientists.

Patterns of Biodiversity

Biodiversity is not evenly distributed on the planet. Lake Victoria contained almost 500 species of cichlids (just one family of fishes that are present in the lake) before the introduction of an exotic species in the 1980s and 1990s caused a mass extinction. All of these species were found only in Lake Victoria, which is to say they were endemic. Endemic species are found in only one location. For example, the blue jay is endemic to North America, while the Barton Springs salamander is endemic to the mouth of one spring in Austin, Texas. Endemic species with highly restricted distributions, like the Barton Springs salamander, are particularly vulnerable to extinction.

Lake Huron contains about 79 species of fish, all of which are found in many other lakes in North America. What accounts for the difference in diversity between Lake Victoria and Lake Huron? Lake Victoria is a tropical lake, while Lake Huron is a temperate lake. Lake Huron in its present form is only about 7,000 years old, while Lake Victoria in its present form is about 15,000 years old. These two factors, latitude and age, are two of several hypotheses biogeographers have suggested to explain biodiversity patterns on Earth.

Biogeography is the study of the distribution of the world’s species both in the past and in the present. The work of biogeographers is critical to understanding our physical environment, how the environment affects species, and how changes in environment impact the distribution of a species.

There are three main fields of study under the heading of biogeography: ecological biogeography, historical biogeography (called paleobiogeography), and conservation biogeography. Ecological biogeography studies the current factors affecting the distribution of plants and animals. Historical biogeography, as the name implies, studies the past distribution of species. Conservation biogeography, on the other hand, is focused on the protection and restoration of species based upon the known historical and current ecological information.

One of the oldest observed patterns in ecology is that biodiversity typically increases as latitude declines. In other words, biodiversity increases closer to the equator (Figure (PageIndex{3})).

It is not yet clear why biodiversity increases closer to the equator, but hypotheses include the greater age of the ecosystems in the tropics versus temperate regions, which were largely devoid of life or drastically impoverished during the last ice age. The greater age provides more time for speciation, the evolutionary process of creating new species. Another possible explanation is the greater energy the tropics receive from the sun. But scientists have not been able to explain how greater energy input could translate into more species. The complexity of tropical ecosystems may promote speciation by increasing the habitat complexity, thus providing more ecological niches. Lastly, the tropics have been perceived as being more stable than temperate regions, which have a pronounced climate and day-length seasonality. The stability of tropical ecosystems might promote speciation. Regardless of the mechanisms, it is certainly true that biodiversity is greatest in the tropics. There are also high numbers of endemic species.

Importance of Biodiversity

Loss of biodiversity may have reverberating consequences on ecosystems because of the complex interrelations among species. For example, the extinction of one species may cause the extinction of another. Biodiversity is important to the survival and welfare of human populations because it has impacts on our health and our ability to feed ourselves through agriculture and harvesting populations of wild animals.

Human Health

Many medications are derived from natural chemicals made by a diverse group of organisms. For example, many plants produce compounds meant to protect the plant from insects and other animals that eat them. Some of these compounds also work as human medicines. Contemporary societies that live close to the land often have a broad knowledge of the medicinal uses of plants growing in their area. For centuries in Europe, older knowledge about the medical uses of plants was compiled in herbals—books that identified the plants and their uses. Humans are not the only animals to use plants for medicinal reasons. The other great apes, orangutans, chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas have all been observed self-medicating with plants.

Modern pharmaceutical science also recognizes the importance of these plant compounds. Examples of significant medicines derived from plant compounds include aspirin, codeine, digoxin, atropine, and vincristine (Figure (PageIndex{4})). Many medications were once derived from plant extracts but are now synthesized. It is estimated that, at one time, 25 percent of modern drugs contained at least one plant extract. That number has probably decreased to about 10 percent as natural plant ingredients are replaced by synthetic versions of the plant compounds. Antibiotics, which are responsible for extraordinary improvements in health and lifespans in developed countries, are compounds largely derived from fungi and bacteria.

In recent years, animal venoms and poisons have excited intense research for their medicinal potential. By 2007, the FDA had approved five drugs based on animal toxins to treat diseases such as hypertension, chronic pain, and diabetes. Another five drugs are undergoing clinical trials and at least six drugs are being used in other countries. Other toxins under investigation come from mammals, snakes, lizards, various amphibians, fish, snails, octopuses, and scorpions.

Aside from representing billions of dollars in profits, these medications improve people’s lives. Pharmaceutical companies are actively looking for new natural compounds that can function as medicines. It is estimated that one third of pharmaceutical research and development is spent on natural compounds and that about 35 percent of new drugs brought to market between 1981 and 2002 were from natural compounds.

Finally, it has been argued that humans benefit psychologically from living in a biodiverse world. The chief proponent of this idea is famed entomologist E. O. Wilson. He argues that human evolutionary history has adapted us to living in a natural environment and that built environments generate stresses that affect human health and well-being. There is considerable research into the psychologically regenerative benefits of natural landscapes that suggest the hypothesis may hold some truth.


Since the beginning of human agriculture more than 10,000 years ago, human groups have been breeding and selecting crop varieties. This crop diversity matched the cultural diversity of highly subdivided populations of humans. For example, potatoes were domesticated beginning around 7,000 years ago in the central Andes of Peru and Bolivia. The people in this region traditionally lived in relatively isolated settlements separated by mountains. The potatoes grown in that region belong to seven species and the number of varieties likely is in the thousands. Each variety has been bred to thrive at particular elevations and soil and climate conditions. The diversity is driven by the diverse demands of the dramatic elevation changes, the limited movement of people, and the demands created by crop rotation for different varieties that will do well in different fields.

Potatoes are only one example of agricultural diversity. Every plant, animal, and fungus that has been cultivated by humans has been bred from original wild ancestor species into diverse varieties arising from the demands for food value, adaptation to growing conditions, and resistance to pests. The potato demonstrates a well-known example of the risks of low crop diversity: during the tragic Irish potato famine (1845–1852 AD), the single potato variety grown in Ireland became susceptible to a potato blight—wiping out the crop. The loss of the crop led to famine, death, and mass emigration. Resistance to disease is a chief benefit to maintaining crop biodiversity and lack of diversity in contemporary crop species carries similar risks. Seed companies, which are the source of most crop varieties in developed countries, must continually breed new varieties to keep up with evolving pest organisms. These same seed companies, however, have participated in the decline of the number of varieties available as they focus on selling fewer varieties in more areas of the world replacing traditional local varieties.

The ability to create new crop varieties relies on the diversity of varieties available and the availability of wild forms related to the crop plant. These wild forms are often the source of new gene variants that can be bred with existing varieties to create varieties with new attributes. Loss of wild species related to a crop will mean the loss of potential in crop improvement. Maintaining the genetic diversity of wild species related to domesticated species ensures our continued supply of food.

Since the 1920s, government agriculture departments have maintained seed banks of crop varieties as a way to maintain crop diversity. This system has flaws because over time seed varieties are lost through accidents and there is no way to replace them. In 2008, the Svalbard Global seed Vault, located on Spitsbergen island, Norway, (Figure) began storing seeds from around the world as a backup system to the regional seed banks. If a regional seed bank stores varieties in Svalbard, losses can be replaced from Svalbard should something happen to the regional seeds. The Svalbard seed vault is deep into the rock of the arctic island. Conditions within the vault are maintained at ideal temperature and humidity for seed survival, but the deep underground location of the vault in the arctic means that failure of the vault’s systems will not compromise the climatic conditions inside the vault.

Although crops are largely under our control, our ability to grow them is dependent on the biodiversity of the ecosystems in which they are grown. That biodiversity creates the conditions under which crops are able to grow through what are known as ecosystem services—valuable conditions or processes that are carried out by an ecosystem. Crops are not grown, for the most part, in built environments. They are grown in soil. Although some agricultural soils are rendered sterile using controversial pesticide treatments, most contain a huge diversity of organisms that maintain nutrient cycles—breaking down organic matter into nutrient compounds that crops need for growth. These organisms also maintain soil texture that affects water and oxygen dynamics in the soil that are necessary for plant growth. Replacing the work of these organisms in forming arable soil is not practically possible. These kinds of processes are called ecosystem services. They occur within ecosystems, such as soil ecosystems, as a result of the diverse metabolic activities of the organisms living there, but they provide benefits to human food production, drinking water availability, and breathable air.

Other key ecosystem services related to food production are plant pollination and crop pest control. It is estimated that honeybee pollination within the United States brings in $1.6 billion per year; other pollinators contribute up to $6.7 billion. Over 150 crops in the United States require pollination to produce. Many honeybee populations are managed by beekeepers who rent out their hives’ services to farmers. Honeybee populations in North America have been suffering large losses caused by a syndrome known as colony collapse disorder, a new phenomenon with an unclear cause. Other pollinators include a diverse array of other bee species and various insects and birds. Loss of these species would make growing crops requiring pollination impossible, increasing dependence on other crops.

Finally, humans compete for their food with crop pests, most of which are insects. Pesticides control these competitors, but these are costly and lose their effectiveness over time as pest populations adapt. They also lead to collateral damage by killing non-pest species as well as beneficial insects like honeybees, and risking the health of agricultural workers and consumers. Moreover, these pesticides may migrate from the fields where they are applied and do damage to other ecosystems like streams, lakes, and even the ocean. Ecologists believe that the bulk of the work in removing pests is actually done by predators and parasites of those pests, but the impact has not been well studied. A review found that in 74 percent of studies that looked for an effect of landscape complexity (forests and fallow fields near to crop fields) on natural enemies of pests, the greater the complexity, the greater the effect of pest-suppressing organisms. Another experimental study found that introducing multiple enemies of pea aphids (an important alfalfa pest) increased the yield of alfalfa significantly. This study shows that a diversity of pests is more effective at control than one single pest. Loss of diversity in pest enemies will inevitably make it more difficult and costly to grow food. The world’s growing human population faces significant challenges in the increasing costs and other difficulties associated with producing food.

Wild Food Sources

In addition to growing crops and raising food animals, humans obtain food resources from wild populations, primarily wild fish populations. For about one billion people, aquatic resources provide the main source of animal protein. But since 1990, production from global fisheries has declined. Despite considerable effort, few fisheries on Earth are managed sustainability.

Fishery extinctions rarely lead to complete extinction of the harvested species, but rather to a radical restructuring of the marine ecosystem in which a dominant species is so over-harvested that it becomes a minor player, ecologically. In addition to humans losing the food source, these alterations affect many other species in ways that are difficult or impossible to predict. The collapse of fisheries has dramatic and long-lasting effects on local human populations that work in the fishery. In addition, the loss of an inexpensive protein source to populations that cannot afford to replace it will increase the cost of living and limit societies in other ways. In general, the fish taken from fisheries have shifted to smaller species and the larger species are overfished. The ultimate outcome could clearly be the loss of aquatic systems as food sources.

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“An inordinate fondness for beetles” is what the celebrated biologist J.B.S. Haldane apocryphally quipped when asked his opinion of God.

Beetles comprise just under a third of the 1.2 million species described so far [], and a recent paper has estimated that there are about 7-10 million species on the planet. In other words, we have yet to describe about 86% of the species on continents, and about 91% of oceanic diversity. These estimates are limited to one of three major domains of life, the eukaryotes (which include plants. animals, fungi, and some microbes such as amoeba), because biologists don’t yet have a good way of cataloguing the other domains of life — the true bacteria and the archaea — which comprise single-celled organisms that are hard to see and even harder to count []. What we do know is that much of biodiversity (even of beetles) remains unknown.

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity does not simply translate into species numbers it also includes genetic and ecological diversity. At the smallest scale, genetic diversity within species includes important variations in such traits as resistance to different parasites. Species diversity refers to the variation within populations and to the differences between species. At the largest scale, there are many different habitats and ecosystems, each of which cycles water and key elements differently. One of the most important aspects of biodiversity is the inextricable interrelatedness of all the parts, be they genes, species, or populations.

What does biodiversity do?

Removing one species is enough to reduce some of nature’s cathedrals to rubble. For instance, who would have guessed that more fur coats could result in less seafood? This is precisely what happened in a famous example off the west coast of North America. Sea otters were severely hunted for their fur for about 150 years, until they were close to extinction in the early 20th century. As a result, the otters’ favorite prey, sea urchins, reproduced in droves, and consumed most of the kelp that sustain an entire community of fish, crabs and shellfish []. The sea otter is an example of what ecologists call a keystone species, because removing that one species is sufficient to cause the collapse of an entire ecosystem.

In addition to the obvious benefits of food, shelter and medicines, healthy ecosystems provide services that most human organizations would be hard-pressed to produce. Clean water, clean air, and fertile soil are lost when we disrupt the intricate combinations of organisms in ecosystems. One of the most compelling instances of an ecosystem service is pollination. Insects and animals sustain at least a third of the world’s crops free of charge through pollination []. Farmers who have lost these natural pollinators have to resort to the fiddly and expensive business of paying people to dab bits of pollen onto flowers with brushes made of chicken feathers [].

What threatens biodiversity?

It is a truth not universally acknowledged that humans would go extinct without biodiversity. Conversely, much of biodiversity is threatened thanks to our actions. A major threat to biodiversity is habitat loss. For instance, many natural pollinators cannot exist in vast, continuous stretches of the same crop, so removing the wild habitat to maximize land on which crops are planted can lead to a decrease in organisms that pollinate our plants. Man-made changes to the compositions of ecosystems can disturb them in unforeseen and indirect ways. For instance, the culling of coyotes in southern California can lead to the decimation of songbirds, because racoons, usually kept in check by coyotes, multiply and devour songbird eggs. Similarly, introduced species can bring diseases or dominate communities, causing many native species to go extinct. Overexploitation is another handy way to ensure that we won’t have much left to live on in the future. About 90% of the world’s predatory fish, like tuna and salmon, are gone due to human exploitation []. Pollution is another clear threat to biodiversity. Our carelessly discarded detritus can do damage thousands of miles away, as seen in this picture of a collection of plastics in the carcass of an albatross chick [].

Climate change is a major threat to entire ecosystems. The Arctic has lost over a quarter of its floating sea ice in the last 20 years. As the reflective ice and snow melt, they are replaced by dark water that absorbs more heat. This increased heat alters the temperature and salinity of the ocean, changing ocean circulation and species composition, while also changing temperatures inland and destroying tundra. In addition, many species cannot adapt fast enough to changing temperatures and seasons []. We know that this could be a threat to species because a very recent paper showed that most of the Ice Age mammals went extinct because of climate change and human activity [].

To lose a few species may be regarded as unfortunate. To lose 27,000 species a year looks like carelessness[]. Many organizations are attempting to stanch the bleeding of biodiversity by identifying “biodiversity hotspots”, areas with unusually high concentrations of unique diversity, as conservation priorities, and are working with local communities so that conservation benefits people directly and not just in the long run. Ultimately, there are both pragmatic and moral reasons for conserving biodiversity. If humans wish to continue living a high quality of life with decent air, food, water, shelter, and medical aid, then it would behoove us to protect the biodiversity upon which so much of our lives depend.

Wenfei Tong is a PhD student in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University.


[] “EOL: Coleoptera – Encyclopedia of Life.” [Online]. Available:

[] Mora C, Tittensor DP, Adl S, Simpson AGB, Worm B, 2011 How Many Species Are There on Earth and in the Ocean? PLoS Biol 9(8): e1001127. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001127

[] “Biodiversity and the Ecosystem Approach in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.” [Online]. Available:

[] “Overfishing – A global environmental problem, threat to our oceans and disaster.” [Online]. Available:

[] E. D. Lorenzen et al., “Species-specific responses of Late Quaternary megafauna to climate and humans,” Nature, vol. advance online publication, Nov. 2011.

Biodiversity And Its Importance

Biodiversity or Biological diversity is typically a measure of variation at the genetic, species, and ecosystem levels. It is a term that describes the variety of living beings on earth. In short, it is described as a degree of variation of life. Biological diversity encompasses microorganisms, plants, animals, and ecosystems such as coral reefs, forests, rainforests, deserts, etc.

Biodiversity also refers to the number or abundance of different species living within a particular region. It represents the wealth of biological resources available to us. It’s all about sustaining the natural area made up of a community of plants, animals, and other living things that is begin reduced at a steady rate as we plan human activities that are being reduced by habitat destruction.

Biodiversity is not distributed evenly on Earth and is the richest in the tropics. These tropical forest ecosystems cover less than 10 percent of the earth’s surface and contain about 90 percent of the world’s species. Marine biodiversity is usually highest along coasts in the Western Pacific, where sea surface temperature is highest, and in the mid-latitudinal band in all oceans. There are latitudinal gradients in species diversity. Biodiversity generally tends to cluster in hotspots, and has been increasing through time, but will be likely to slow in the future.

Climatic changes, pollution level, vegetation structure, and composition, etc. are key factors participating in the structure and function of such a system. The adaptability of the certain species is a remarkable characters important quality of the species which support them to live in specific climatic condition and also playing role in survival of the species. Species variation is determined by the effect of gene activity and regulated by the presence of environmental facilities available for the species, group of the same species or by the association of individual species forming a population structure. Its occurrence, Density, and dispersal are variable components.

Each species has a unique life pattern and growth power in their natural habitat is known as their biotic potential. Better climatic condition supports the biotic potential of the species whereas the adverse condition of the environment becomes dangerous for growth and development of the certain species. Population structure is changeable according to the changes in climates. So, the variations in life forms are essential for successful regulation of the ecosystem and are also remarkable for their valuation in multifold directions.

The Importance of Biodiversity –

In the last 100 years average global temperature has increased by 0.74°C, rainfall patterns have changed and the frequency of extreme events increased. Change has not been uniform on either a spatial or temporal scale and the range of change, in terms of climate and weather, has also been variable.

Change in climate has consequences on the biophysical environment such as changes in the start and length of the seasons, glacial retreat, and a decrease in Arctic sea ice extent and a rise in sea level. These changes have already had an observable impact on biodiversity at the species level, in terms of phenology, distribution & populations, and ecosystem level in terms of distribution, composition & function.

Biodiversity has a number of functions on the Earth. These are as follows:

  • Maintaining the balance of the ecosystem: Recycling and storage of nutrients, combating pollution, and stabilizing climate, protecting water resources, forming and protecting soil, and maintaining eco-balance.
  • Provision of biological resources: Provision of medicines and pharmaceuticals, food for the human population and animals, ornamental plants, wood products, breeding stock, and diversity of species, ecosystems, and genes.
  • Social benefits: Recreation and tourism, cultural value and education, and research.

Biodiversity includes organisms from Earth’s vastly different ecosystems, including deserts, rainforests, coral reefs, grasslands, tundra, and polar ice caps. Our biodiversity is very important to the well-being of our planet. Most cultures, at least at some time, have recognized the importance of conserving natural resources. Many still do, but many do not.

Healthy ecosystems and rich biodiversity:

  • Increase ecosystem productivity each species in an ecosystem has a specific niche a role to play.
  • Support a larger number of plant species and, therefore, a greater variety of crops.
  • Protect freshwater resources.
  • Promote soil formation and protection.
  • Provide for nutrient storage and recycling.
  • Aid in breaking down pollutants.
  • Contribute to climate stability.
  • Speed recovery from natural disasters.
  • Provide more food resources.
  • Provide more medicinal resources and pharmaceutical drugs.
  • Offer environments for recreation and tourism.

The role of biodiversity in the following areas will help make clear the importance of biodiversity in human life:

  • Biodiversity and food: 80% of the human food supply comes from 20 kinds of plants. But humans use 40,000 species for food, clothing, and shelter. Biodiversity provides for a variety of foods for the planet.
  • Biodiversity and human health: The shortage of drinking water is expected to create a major global crisis. Biodiversity also plays an important role in drug discovery and medicinal resources. Medicines from nature account for usage by 80% of the world’s population.
  • Biodiversity and industry: Biological sources provide many industrial materials. These include fiber, oil, dyes, rubber, water, timber, paper, and food.
  • Biodiversity and culture: Biodiversity enhances recreational activities like bird watching, fishing, trekking, etc. It inspires musicians and artists.

Finally, Biodiversity plays an important role in the presence, multiplication and existence of the biological species in nature which are its important components and key elements for a better and healthy environment. It also performs a role in the conservation of natural resources.


The notion of an international convention on bio-diversity was conceived at a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Ad Hoc Working Group of Experts on Biological Diversity in November 1988. The subsequent year, the Ad Hoc Working Group of Technical and Legal Experts was established for the drafting of a legal text which addressed the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, as well as the sharing of benefits arising from their utilization with sovereign states and local communities. In 1991, an intergovernmental negotiating committee was established, tasked with finalizing the convention's text. [1]

A Conference for the Adoption of the Agreed Text of the Convention on Biological Diversity was held in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1992, and its conclusions were distilled in the Nairobi Final Act. [2] The convention's text was opened for signature on 5 June 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Rio "Earth Summit"). By its closing date, 4 June 1993, the convention had received 168 signatures. It entered into force on 29 December 1993. [1]

The convention recognized for the first time in international law that the conservation of biodiversity is "a common concern of humankind" and is an integral part of the development process. The agreement covers all ecosystems, species, and genetic resources. It links traditional conservation efforts to the economic goal of using biological resources sustainably. It sets principles for the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources, notably those destined for commercial use. [3] It also covers the rapidly expanding field of biotechnology through its Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, addressing technology development and transfer, benefit-sharing and biosafety issues. Importantly, the convention is legally binding countries that join it ('Parties') are obliged to implement its provisions.

The convention reminds decision-makers that natural resources are not infinite and sets out a philosophy of sustainable use. While past conservation efforts were aimed at protecting particular species and habitats, the Convention recognizes that ecosystems, species and genes must be used for the benefit of humans. However, this should be done in a way and at a rate that does not lead to the long-term decline of biological diversity.

The convention also offers decision-makers guidance based on the precautionary principle which demands that where there is a threat of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to avoid or minimize such a threat. The Convention acknowledges that substantial investments are required to conserve biological diversity. It argues, however, that conservation will bring us significant environmental, economic and social benefits in return.

The Convention on Biological Diversity of 2010 banned some forms of geoengineering.

The current [ when? ] acting executive secretary is Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, who took up this post on 1 December 2019.

The previous executive secretaries were:

Some of the many issues dealt with under the convention include: [4]

  • Measures the incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.
  • Regulated access to genetic resources and traditional knowledge, including Prior Informed Consent of the party providing resources.
  • Sharing, in a fair and equitable way, the results of research and development and the benefits arising from the commercial and other utilization of genetic resources with the Contracting Party providing such resources (governments and/or local communities that provided the traditional knowledge or biodiversity resources utilized).
  • Access to and transfer of technology, including biotechnology, to the governments and/or local communities that provided traditional knowledge and/or biodiversity resources.
  • Technical and scientific cooperation.
  • Coordination of a global directory of taxonomic expertise (Global Taxonomy Initiative).
  • Impact assessment.
  • Education and public awareness.
  • Provision of financial resources.
  • National reporting on efforts to implement treaty commitments.

Conference of the Parties (COP) Edit

The convention's governing body is the Conference of the Parties (COP), consisting of all governments (and regional economic integration organizations) that have ratified the treaty. This ultimate authority reviews progress under the convention, identifies new priorities, and sets work plans for members. The COP can also make amendments to the convention, create expert advisory bodies, review progress reports by member nations, and collaborate with other international organizations and agreements.

The Conference of the Parties uses expertise and support from several other bodies that are established by the convention. In addition to committees or mechanisms established on an ad hoc basis, the main organs are:

CBD Secretariat Edit

The CBD Secretariat, based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, operates under UNEP, the United Nations Environment Programme. Its main functions are to organize meetings, draft documents, assist member governments in the implementation of the programme of work, coordinate with other international organizations, and collect and disseminate information.

Subsidiary Body for Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) Edit

The SBSTTA is a committee composed of experts from member governments competent in relevant fields. It plays a key role in making recommendations to the COP on scientific and technical issues. It provides assessments of the status of biological diversity and of various measures taken in accordance with Convention, and also gives recommendations to the Conference of the Parties, which may be endorsed in whole, in part or in modified form by the COPs. As of 2020 [update] SBSTTA had met 23 times, with a 24th meeting scheduled to take place in Canada in 2021. [5]

Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI) Edit

In 2014, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity established the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI) to replace the Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group on Review of Implementation of the convention. The four functions and core areas of work of SBI are: (a) review of progress in implementation (b) strategic actions to enhance implementation (c) strengthening means of implementation and (d) operations of the convention and the Protocols. The first meeting of the SBI was held on 2–6 May 2016 and the second meeting was held on 9–13 July 2018, both in Montreal, Canada. The third meeting of the SBI will be held on 25–29 May 2020 in Montreal, Canada. [ needs update ] The Bureau of the Conference of the Parties serves as the Bureau of the SBI. The current chair of the SBI is Ms. Charlotta Sörqvist of Sweden.

As of 2016, the convention has 196 parties, which includes 195 states and the European Union. [6] All UN member states—with the exception of the United States—have ratified the treaty. Non-UN member states that have ratified are the Cook Islands, Niue, and the State of Palestine. The Holy See and the states with limited recognition are non-parties. The US has signed but not ratified the treaty, [7] and has not announced plans to ratify it.

The European Union created the Cartagena Protocol (see below) in 2000 to enhance biosafety regulation and propagate the "precautionary principle" over the "sound science principle" defended by the United States. Whereas the impact of the Cartagena Protocol on domestic regulations has been substantial, its impact on international trade law remains uncertain. In 2006, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that the European Union had violated international trade law between 1999 and 2003 by imposing a moratorium on the approval of genetically modified organisms (GMO) imports. Disappointing the United States, the panel nevertheless "decided not to decide" by not invalidating the stringent European biosafety regulations. [8]

Implementation by the parties to the convention is achieved using two means:

National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAP) Edit

National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAP) are the principal instruments for implementing the Convention at the national level. The Convention requires that countries prepare a national biodiversity strategy and to ensure that this strategy is included in planning for activities in all sectors where diversity may be impacted. As of early 2012, 173 Parties had developed NBSAPs. [9]

The United Kingdom, New Zealand and Tanzania carried out elaborate responses to conserve individual species and specific habitats. The United States of America, a signatory who had not yet ratified the treaty by 2010, [10] produced one of the most thorough implementation programs through species recovery programs and other mechanisms long in place in the US for species conservation. [ citation needed ]

Singapore established a detailed National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. [11] The National Biodiversity Centre of Singapore represents Singapore in the Convention for Biological Diversity. [12]

National Reports Edit

In accordance with Article 26 of the convention, parties prepare national reports on the status of implementation of the convention.

Cartagena Protocol (2000) Edit

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, also known as the Biosafety Protocol, was adopted in January 2000, after a CBD Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety had met six times between July 1996 and February 1999. The Working Group submitted a draft text of the Protocol, for consideration by Conference of the Parties at its first extraordinary meeting, which was convened for the express purpose of adopting a protocol on biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity. After a few delays, the Cartagena Protocol was eventually adopted on 29 January 2000. [13] The Biosafety Protocol seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology. [14] [15]

The Biosafety Protocol makes clear that products from new technologies must be based on the precautionary principle and allow developing nations to balance public health against economic benefits. It will for example let countries ban imports of a genetically modified organism if they feel there is not enough scientific evidence the product is safe and requires exporters to label shipments containing genetically modified commodities such as corn or cotton. [14]

The required number of 50 instruments of ratification/accession/approval/acceptance by countries was reached in May 2003. In accordance with the provisions of its Article 37, the Protocol entered into force on 11 September 2003. [16]

Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (2002) Edit

In April 2002, the parties of the UN CBD adopted the recommendations of the Gran Canaria Declaration Calling for a Global Plant Conservation Strategy, and adopted a 16-point plan aiming to slow the rate of plant extinctions around the world by 2010.

Nagoya Protocol (2010) Edit

The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity was adopted on 29 October 2010 in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan, at the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties, [17] and entered into force on 12 October 2014. [18] The protocol is a supplementary agreement to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and provides a transparent legal framework for the effective implementation of one of the three objectives of the CBD: the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. It thereby contributes to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. [17] [19]

Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 Edit

Also at the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties, held from 18 to 29 October 2010 in Nagoya, [20] a revised and updated Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, 2011-2020 was agreed and published. This document included the "Aichi Biodiversity Targets", comprising 20 targets which address each of five strategic goals defined in the Strategic Plan. The strategic plan includes the following strategic goals: [21] [22]

  • Strategic Goal A: Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society
  • Strategic Goal B: Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use
  • Strategic Goal C: To improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity
  • Strategic Goal D: Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Strategic Goal E: Enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building

There have been criticisms against CBD that the convention has been weakened in implementation due to the resistance of Western countries to the implementation of the pro-South provisions of the convention. [23] CBD is also regarded as a case of a hard treaty gone soft in the implementation trajectory. [24] The argument to enforce the treaty as a legally binding multilateral instrument with the Conference of Parties reviewing the infractions and non-compliance is also gaining strength. [25]

Although the convention explicitly states that all forms of life are covered by its provisions, [26] examination of reports and of national biodiversity strategies and action plans submitted by participating countries shows that in practice this is not happening. The fifth report of the European Union, for example, makes frequent reference to animals (particularly fish) and plants, but does not mention bacteria, fungi or protists at all. [27] The International Society for Fungal Conservation has assessed more than 100 of these CBD documents for their coverage of fungi using defined criteria to place each in one of six categories. No documents were assessed as good or adequate, less than 10% as nearly adequate or poor, and the rest as deficient, seriously deficient or totally deficient. [28]

Scientists working with biodiversity and medical research are expressing fears that the Nagoya Protocol is counterproductive, and will hamper disease prevention and conservation efforts, [29] and that the threat of imprisonment of scientists will have a chilling effect on research. [30] Non-commercial researchers and institutions such as natural history museums fear maintaining biological reference collections and exchanging material between institutions will become difficult, [31] and medical researchers have expressed alarm at plans to expand the protocol to make it illegal to publicly share genetic information, e.g. via GenBank. [32]

William Yancey Brown when with the Brookings Institution has suggested that the Convention on Biological Diversity should include the preservation of intact genomes and viable cells for every known species and for new species as they are discovered. [33]

A Conference of the Parties (COP) was held annually for three years after 1994, and thence biennially on even-numbered years.

1994 COP 1 Edit

The first ordinary meeting of the parties to the convention took place in November and December 1994, in Nassau, Bahamas. [34]

1995 COP 2 Edit

The second ordinary meeting of the parties to the convention took place in November 1995, in Jakarta, Indonesia. [35]

1996 COP 3 Edit

The third ordinary meeting of the parties to the convention took place in November 1996, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. [36]

1998 COP 4 Edit

The fourth ordinary meeting of the parties to the convention took place in May 1998, in Bratislava, Slovakia. [37]

1999 EX-COP 1 (Cartagena) Edit

The First Extraordinary Meeting of the Conference of the Parties took place in February 1999, in Cartagena, Colombia. [38] A series of meetings led to the adoption of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in January 2000, effective from 2003. [13]

2000 COP 5 Edit

The fifth ordinary meeting of the parties to the convention took place in May 2000, in Nairobi, Kenya. [39]

2002 COP 6 Edit

The sixth ordinary meeting of the parties to the convention took place in April 2002, in The Hague, Netherlands. [40]

2004 COP 7 Edit

The seventh ordinary meeting of the parties to the convention took place in February 2004, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. [41]

2006 COP 8 Edit

The eighth ordinary meeting of the parties to the convention took place in March 2006, in Curitiba, Brazil. [42]

2008 COP 9 Edit

The ninth ordinary meeting of the parties to the convention took place in May 2008, in Bonn, Germany. [43]

2010 COP 10 (Nagoya) Edit

The tenth ordinary meeting of the parties to the convention took place in October 2010, in Nagoya, Japan. [44] It was at this meeting that the Nagoya Protocol was ratified.

2010 was the International Year of Biodiversity and the Secretariat of the CBD was its focal point. Following a recommendation of CBD signatories during COP 10 at Nagoya, the UN, on 22 December 2010, declared 2011 to 2020 as the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity.

2012 COP 11 Edit

Leading up to the Conference of the Parties (COP 11) meeting on biodiversity in Hyderabad, India, 2012, preparations for a World Wide Views on Biodiversity has begun, involving old and new partners and building on the experiences from the World Wide Views on Global Warming. [45]

2014 COP 12 Edit

Under the theme, "Biodiversity for Sustainable Development", thousands of representatives of governments, NGOs, indigenous peoples, scientists and the private sector gathered in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea in October 2014 for the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12). [46]

From 6–17 October 2014, Parties discussed the implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets, which are to be achieved by the end of this decade. The results of Global Biodiversity Outlook 4, the flagship assessment report of the CBD informed the discussions.

The conference gave a mid-term evaluation to the UN Decade on Biodiversity (2011–2020) initiative, which aims to promote the conservation and sustainable use of nature. The meeting achieved a total of 35 decisions, [47] including a decision on "Mainstreaming gender considerations", to incorporate gender perspective to the analysis of biodiversity.

At the end of the meeting, the meeting adopted the "Pyeongchang Road Map", which addresses ways to achieve biodiversity through technology cooperation, funding and strengthening the capacity of developing countries. [48]

2016 COP 13 Edit

The thirteenth ordinary meeting of the parties to the convention took place between 2 and 17 December 2016 in Cancun, Mexico.

2018 COP 14 Edit

The 14th ordinary meeting of the parties to the convention took place on 17–29 November 2018, in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. [49] The 2018 UN Biodiversity Conference closed on 29 November 2018 with broad international agreement on reversing the global destruction of nature and biodiversity loss threatening all forms of life on Earth. Parties adopted the Voluntary Guidelines for the design and effective implementation of ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. [50] [51] Governments also agreed to accelerate action to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, agreed in 2010, until 2020. Work to achieve these targets would take place at the global, regional, national and subnational levels.

2021 COP 15 Edit

The 15th meeting of the parties is due to take place in the second quarter of 2021 in Kunming, China. [52] It is intended that the meeting "will adopt a post-2020 global biodiversity framework as a stepping stone towards the 2050 Vision of 'Living in harmony with nature'." [53]

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This article is partly based on the relevant entry in the CIA World Factbook, as of 2008 [update] edition.

There are indeed several comprehensive publications on the subject, the given reference covers only one small aspect

Perspectives on Biodiversity: Valuing Its Role in an Everchanging World (1999)

The individual components of biodiversity&mdashgenes, species, and ecosystems&mdashprovide society with a wide array of goods and services. Genes, species, and ecosystems of direct, indirect, or potential use to humanity are often referred to as "biological resources" (McNeely and others 1990 Reid and Miller 1989 Wood 1997). Examples that we use directly include the genes that plant breeders use to develop new crop varieties the species that we use for various foods, medicines, and industrial products and the ecosystems that provide services, such as water purification and flood control. The components of biodiversity are interconnected. For example, genetic diversity provides the basis of continuing adaptation to changing conditions, and continued crop productivity rests on the diversity in crop species and on the variety of soil invertebrates and microorganisms that maintain soil fertility. Similarly, a change in the composition and abundance of the species that make up an ecosystem can alter the services that can be obtained from the system. In this chapter, we review the types of goods and services that mankind obtains directly and indirectly from biodiversity and its components.

Biodiversity contributes to our knowledge in ways that are both informative and transformative. Knowledge about the components of biodiversity is valuable in stimulating technological innovation and in learning about human biology and ecology. Experiencing and increasing our knowledge about biodiversity transform our values and beliefs. There is a fairly large literature characterizing nonextractive ecosystem services with direct benefit to society, such as water pollution and purification, flood control, pollination, and pest control. In addition, such services in biophysical and economic terms characterize the institutional mechanisms needed to generate incentives for their preservation (Daily

1997 Missouri Botanical Garden forthcoming). In this chapter, we review the types of social and cultural values associated with knowledge of biodiversity. We use those values in chapter 4 to discuss how they can contribute to decisions on management of biodiversity.

Biological Values

The components of biodiversity are the source of all our food and many of our medicines, fibers, fuels, and industrial products. The direct uses of the components of biodiversity contribute substantially to the economy. In 1989, US agriculture, forestry, and fisheries contributed $113 billion 1 to the US gross domestic product (GDP), equal to the contribution of the chemical and petroleum industries combined (DOC 1993). The full contribution of biodiversity-related industries to the economy is higher still, in that it includes shares of such sectors as recreation (see Everglades and Boulder, Colo., case studies in this chapter and Lake Washington case study in chapter 6), hunting (see Quabbin Reservoir case study in chapter 6), tourism (see Costa Rica case study in chapter 2), and pharmaceuticals.

The economies of most developing countries depend more heavily on natural resources, so biodiversity-related sectors contribute larger shares of their GDPs. For example, the sum of the agriculture, forestry, and forest-industry products in Costa Rica in 1987 accounted for 19% of the nation's GDP (TSC/WRI 1991), whereas these sectors accounted for only 2% of the US GDP (DOC 1993). The relatively small direct economic contribution of biological resources in the two countries illustrates the difficulty of "valuing" biodiversity. The small fraction of the value of these ecological systems that is accounted for in US economic ledgers contrasts starkly with the fact that our survival depends on functioning ecological systems. At the same time, our limited ability to value ecological parallels our limited appreciation of our dependence on these systems. The imperfections of our knowledge are seen in the $200 million Biosphere 2 trial&mdashin the unsuccessful attempt to house eight people for 2 years in an ecologically closed system. Cohen and Tilman (1996) concluded that "no one yet knows how to engineer systems that provide humans with the life-supporting services that natural ecosystems produce for free."

Biodiversity in Domesticated Systems

Humans rely on a relatively small fraction of species diversity for food. Only about 150 species of plants have entered world commerce, and 103 species

This measure and measures that follow in the chapter are very general indications of monetary values associated with various aspects of biodiversity. They are calculated in different ways and have different bases for calculation. Care should be taken in comparison.

account for 90% of the supply of food plants by weight, calories, protein, and fat for most of the world's countries (Prescott-Allen and Prescott-Allen 1990). Just three crops&mdashwheat, rice, and maize&mdashaccount for roughly 60% of the calories and 56% of the protein consumed directly from plants (Wilkes 1985). Relatively few species that have not already been used as foods are likely to enter our food supply, but many species now consumed only locally are likely to be introduced into larger markets and grown in different regions. For example, the kiwi fruit was introduced into the United States as recently as 1961 within 20 years, US sales had grown to some $22 million per year (Myers 1997).

Although relatively few species are consumed for food, their productivity in both traditional and modern agricultural systems depends on genetic diversity within the species and interactions with other species found in the agroecosystem. Claims that such biodiversity "archives" can serve as substitutes for biodiversity in natural habitats are more fanciful than factual. Genetic diversity provides the raw material for plant breeding, which is responsible for much of the increases in productivity in modern agricultural systems. In the United States from 1930 to 1980, plant breeders' use of genetic diversity accounted for at least the doubling in yields of rice, barley, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and sugarcane a threefold increase in tomato yields and a fourfold increase in yields of maize, sorghum, and potato. An estimated $1 billion has been added to the value of US agricultural output each year by this widened genetic base (OTA 1987). Breeders rely on access to a wide range of traditional cultivars and wild relatives of crops as sources of genetic material that is used to enhance productivity or quality. Different landraces can contain genes that confer resistance to specific diseases or pests, make crops more responsive to inputs such as water or fertilizers, or confer hardiness enabling the crop to be grown in more extreme weather or soil conditions.

Much of the genetic diversity available for crop breeding is now stored in a network of national and international genebanks administered by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, and various national agricultural research programs, such as the US Department of Agriculture's National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado. The value of these genebanks for agricultural improvement is substantial. For example, in a presentation to this committee, 2 Evenson and Gollin estimated the present net value of adding 1,000 cataloged accessions of rice landraces to the International Rice Research Institute's genebank at $325 million (on the basis of empirical estimates that these accessions would generate 5.8 additional new varieties, which would generate an annual $145 million income stream with a delay of 10 years). As important as they are in agriculture,

Presentation to the full committee at its October 1995 workshop, "Issues in the Valuation of Biodiversity," by Robert Evenson, Yale University.

genebanks, and other in situ collections (cyropreserved and in zoos) are viable only for a very narrow array of species.

The important contribution of genebanks to agricultural productivity has been recognized by government since the 18th century. It led to the rise of botanical gardens and expeditions in search of new plant varieties, including the fabled voyage of the HMS Bounty (Fowler 1994), and is growing substantially as traditional landraces continue to be replaced by modern varieties.

Genetic engineering has greatly increased the supply of genetic material available for introduction into crop varieties. Genes from any species of plant, animal, or microorganism can now be moved into a particular plant. For example, genes from the winter flounder have been transferred into the tobacco genome to increase its frost resistance, and genes from the microorganism Bacillus thuringiensis have been transferred into corn, wheat, and rice to give them resistance to insect pests. Genetic engineering is not without considerable risks, and its ultimate success will depend on genetic variability in natural populations. It is clear that the rapid increase in uses of genetic engineering will continue as knowledge and applications of new techniques increase.

Not only are specific genes valuable in modern agricultural systems, but the maintenance of genetic diversity is also valuable in traditional agricultural systems. The greater the genetic uniformity of a crop, the greater the risk of catastrophic losses to disease or unusual weather. In 1970, for example, the US corn harvest was reduced by 15%&mdashfor a net economic cost of $1 billion&mdashwhen a leaf fungus spread quickly through a relatively uniform crop (Tatum 1971). Since then, breeders have taken greater precautions to ensure that a heterogeneous array of genetic strains are present in fields, but problems due to reduced diversity still recur. The loss of a large portion of the Soviet Union's wheat crop to cold weather in 1972 and the citrus canker outbreak in Florida in 1984 both stemmed from reductions in genetic diversity (Reid and Miller 1989).

Humans also use a relatively small number of livestock species for food and transportation: only about 50 species have been domesticated. Here, too, genetic diversity is the raw material for maintaining and increasing the productivity of species.

Biodiversity in Wild Systems

Humans still harvest considerable quantities of food, fuel, and fiber from nondomesticated ecosystems. For example, gross revenue from the world marine fisheries in 1989 amounted to $69 billion (WRI 1994). Fish contribute only 5% of the protein consumed worldwide, but the proportion can be much higher locally. In Japan, the Philippines, the Seychelles, and Ghana, for example, fish account for more than 20% of protein intake (PAI 1995). In some developing countries and among some population segments in developed countries, terrestrial wildlife also continues to be an important subsistence resource. In some

areas of Botswana, for example, over 50 species of wild animals provide as much as 40% of the protein in the diet and in Nigeria, game accounts for about 20% of the animal protein consumed by people in rural areas (McNeely and others 1990).

Increased diversity of livestock can sometimes improve productivity. In Africa, for example, "game ranching"&mdashin which wild species of antelope replace domesticated livestock on particular ranches&mdashcan result in higher yields of meat than could be obtained from domesticated animals (WRI 1987). Naturally diverse ungulates can use grassland resources more efficiently than domesticated varieties in these situations.

In rural Alaska, more than 90% of the people harvest and use wild animals for both food and clothing. The cash value of wild food constitutes 49% of residents' mean income (ADFG 1994). The marine mammals of the northern Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas are among the most diverse in the world many of the species are used for subsistence purposes by Alaskan Natives, and many have important symbolic roles in cultural identity (NRC 1994).

Most of the world's timber production still comes from nondomesticated systems, although a growing share is now harvested on plantations. In tropical forests, for example, the area of plantations increased from 18 million hectares in 1980 to 40 million in 1990. Although statistics on the world value of internal and externally traded timber products are not available, the world value of forest-product exports alone in 1993 was to $100 billion (FAOSTAT 1995).

Recreational uses of biodiversity&mdashfishing, hunting, and various nonconsumptive uses, such as bird-watching&mdashalso contribute to the economy (see Everglades and Boulder, Colo., case studies in this chapter and Lake Washington case study in chapter 6). In the United States alone, such activities involved about 77 million persons over the age of 16 in 1996 and resulted in expenditures of $101.2 billion (DOI/DOC 1997). Wildlife watchers made up the largest group (62.9 million participants in 1996) their expenditures included $16.7 billion for equipment, $9.4 billion for travel, and $3.1 billion in other expenses. Of a total of 39.7 million sportspersons, 35.2 million were adult anglers and 14.0 million were hunters this group spent $72 billion in 1996, including $37.8 billion for fishing, $20.6 billion for hunting, and $13.5 billion in unspecified expenses (DOI/DOC 1997).

One of the most rapidly growing values of biodiversity in wild ecosystems is related to tourism. Worldwide receipts from international tourism in 1990 totaled $250 billion (WCMC 1992), and domestic tourism is believed to be as much as 10 times higher. How much of the tourist trade is attracted specifically by biodiversity is difficult to tell. Of the $55 billion in tourism revenues accruing to developing countries in 1988, an estimated 4&ndash22% was due to "nature tourism" (Lindberg 1991). More than half of the visitors in Costa Rica, for example, state that the national parks are their "principal reason" for traveling to the country (see the case study on Costa Rica in chapter 2). Costa Rica's protected areas are estimated to account for $87 million annually in tourism revenues.

As in domesticated agroecosystems, the diversity of genes and species undergirds the continued productivity of these components of biodiversity in nondomesticated ecosystems. The genetic diversity in a species provides the basis for the species to adapt to changing environmental conditions. Reduced genetic diversity increases the probability of species extinction or of substantial reductions in the population of a species due to changing environmental conditions (such as, a change in climate or the introduction of a new disease). For example, wild exotic trout in the western United States can be destroyed by whirling disease, which is caused by the microorganism Myxobolus cerebralis the only way to restore infected populations is to find genetically resistant populations (Hoffman 1990).

The productivity of an ecosystem can be high both in systems with large numbers of species, such as tropical forests, and in systems with relatively small numbers of species, such as wetlands.

The extirpation of the California sea otter from much of its range in the 1800s resulted in substantial changes in near-shore ecosystems (Estes and Palmisano 1974). Recovery of otter populations to their original densities affects other ecosystem components of commercial or recreational value: giant kelp, sea urchins, abalone, and surf clams. The sea otter is a primary predator (top of the food chain) of mollusks and urchins, which graze on stands of algae that are primary producers (of calories consumed) in coastal regions extending from California through the Aleutian Islands. As a consequence of the extirpation of sea otters, grazing urchins became common and reduced the biomass of primary producers.

Just like the loss of specific species, the manipulation of the food chain structure can alter the productivity of direct value to humans. For example, in areas where intense gillnet fisheries have seriously depleted Nile perch stocks, many African cichlids have recovered in Lake Victoria (Kaufman 1992). Equivalently, the introduction of the Nile perch into Lake Victoria led to the extinction of many species of the native cichlid fish and substantially reduced the total harvest of this important food source (Johnson and others 1996).

Biodiversity in the Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Industry

Wild species of plants and animals have long been the source of important pharmaceutical products. Natural products play a central role in traditional healthcare systems. The World Health Organization estimates that some 80% of people in developing countries obtain their primary health care in the form of traditional medicines (Farnsworth 1988). Systems of ayurvedic medicine (traditional Hindu medical practices) in India and the traditional systems of Chinese herbal medicine, for example, reach hundreds of millions of people. Total sales of herbal medicines in Europe, Asia, and North America were estimated at $8.4 billion in 1993 (Laird and Wynberg 1996). That total is not large on a global

scale, but sales of herbal medicines can often be an important source of income for local communities and business.

Natural products also continue to play a central role in the pharmacopeia of industrialized nations. Of the highest-selling 150 prescription drugs sold in the United States in 1993, 18% of the 150 consisted of essentially unaltered natural products, and natural products provided essential information used to synthesize an additional 39% (Grifo and others 1997). In total, 57% owed their existence either directly or indirectly to natural products.

Natural products were once the only source of pharmaceuticals, but by the 1960s synthetic chemistry had advanced to the point where the pharmaceutical industry's interest in natural products for drug development had declined greatly and it declined further with the introduction of "rational drug design". Several technological advances led to a resurgence of interest in research in natural products in the 1980s. The development of modern techniques involving computers, robotics, and highly sensitive instrumentation for the extraction, fractionation, and chemical identification of natural products has dramatically increased the efficiency and decreased the cost of screening for natural products. Before the 1980s, a laboratory using test-tube and in vivo assays could screen 100&ndash1,000 samples per week. Now, a laboratory using in vitro mechanism-based assays and robotics can screen 10,000 samples per week. Where the screening of 10,000 plant extracts would have cost $6 million a decade ago, it can now be accomplished for $150,000 (Reid and others 1995). In the next decade, throughput could grow by a factor of 10&ndash100.

As the new technologies became available in the 1980s, many companies established natural-products research divisions. Of 27 companies interviewed in 1991, two-thirds had established their natural-products programs within the preceding 6 years (Reid and others 1993). In most large pharmaceutical companies, natural-products research accounts for 10% or less of overall research. But some smaller companies now focus exclusively on natural products. For example, Shaman Pharmaceuticals bases all its drug-discovery research on natural products used in traditional healing systems, and it currently has two drugs in clinical trials.

How long the interest in natural-products drug discovery will last is impossible to know. New techniques of combinatorial chemistry and other advances in drug design might reduce interest in natural-products research. Even so, many chemists feel that current synthetic chemistry is still unable to match, the complexity of many of the natural compounds that have proved effective as drugs. For example, paclitaxel, known as Taxol, a compound from the Pacific yew tree (which is not considered economically important for timber or other commercial purposes), is being used in treatment for ovarian and breast cancer. The compound was discovered in the 1960s but could not be synthesized until the 1990s and even now, the process is so time-consuming and expensive that natural precursors are used in the production of the drug.

Drugs developed from natural products often generate large profits for drug companies, but the actual value of biodiversity as a ''raw material'' for drug development is much smaller (Simpson and others 1996). On the average, some $235 million and 12 years of work are required to produce a single marketable product in the drug industry. Moreover, less than 1 in 10,000 chemicals is likely to result in a potential new drug and only 1 in 4 of those candidates will make it to the pharmacy. On the basis of typical royalties paid for raw materials, the likelihood of discovering a new drug, the length of patent protection, and the discount rate, the present net value of an arrangement whereby a nation contributes 1,000 extracts for screening by industry would be only about $50,000. Moreover, there would be a 97.5% chance that no product at all would be produced. The likelihood that any particular plant or animal will yield a new drug is extremely small, but endangered species in the United States have yielded new drugs. We can to some degree aggregate the plants and animals that are most likely to lead to new drugs. These are likely to have considerable value as prospects (Rausser and Small in press).


Until recently, pharmaceutical, agricultural, and industrial uses of biodiversity relied on largely different methods of research and development. Today, with the help of the new biotechnologies, individual samples of plants or microorganisms can be maintained in culture and screened for potential use in any of those industries. Companies are screening the properties of organisms to develop new antifouling compounds for ships, new glues, and to isolate new genes and proteins for use in industry. A thermophilic bacterium collected from Yellowstone hot springs provided the heat-stable enzyme Taq polymerase, which makes it possible, in a process known as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), to amplify specific DNA target sequences derived from minute quantities of DNA. PCR has provided the basis of medical diagnoses, forensic analyses, and basic research that were impossible just 10 years ago. The current world market for Taq polymerase, is $80&ndash85 million per year (Rabinow 1996). Biodiversity is the essential "raw material" of the biotechnology industry, but the process of examining biodiversity for new applications in that industry has only begun.

Biodiversity and Bioremediation

It has become clear in recent years that the fundamental role of microorganisms in global processes can be exploited in maintaining and restoring environmental productivity and quality. Indeed, microorganisms are already playing important roles, both in the prevention of pollution (for example, through waste processing and environmental monitoring) and in environmental restoration (for example, through bioremediation of spilled oil). Modern biotechnology is pro-

viding tools that will enhance the environmental roles of microorganisms, and this trend should accelerate as the appropriate basic and applied sciences mature (Colwell 1995 Zilinskas and others 1995). A variety of probes and diagnostics for monitoring food and environmental quality have been developed (Dooley 1994), and there is much discussion of the development of genetically engineered organisms for speeding the clean up of wastes, spills, and contaminated sediments. Furthermore, marine biotechnology is being pursued avidly and on a larger scale in Japan (Yamaguchi 1996), where one major goal is to find ways to lower global atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Without doubt, the prediction of climate change will be much improved by a better understanding of global cycles, and the tools of marine biotechnology will be heavily involved in this endeavor.

The fundamental premise here is that chronic pollution reduces system species diversity and diminishes ecosystem function. Thus, restoring perceived environmental quality and productivity cannot easily be separated from basic biodiversity issues.

Ecosystem Services

A substantial risk of undesirable and unexpected changes in ecosystem services is posed when the abundance of any species in an ecosystem is changed greatly. Our ability to predict which species are important for particular services is limited by the absence of detailed experimental studies of the ecosystem in question. Nonetheless, the available data indicate that a higher level of species diversity in an ecosystem tends to increase the likelihood that particular ecosystem services will be maintained in the face of changing ecological or climatic conditions (below, "Species Diversity and Ecosystem Services").

Both wild and human-modified ecosystems provide humankind with a variety of services that we often take for granted (see box 3-1). The services include the provision of clean water, regulation of water flows, modification of local and regional climate and rainfall, maintenance of soil fertility, flood control, pest control, and the protection of coastal zones from storm damage. All those are "products" of ecosystems and thus a product of biodiversity. The characteristics and maintenance of these ecosystem services are linked to the diversity of species in the systems and ultimately to the genetic diversity within those species. However, the nature of this relationship between ecosystem services and biodiversity at the lower levels of species and genetic diversity is complex and only partially understood.

Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

Humankind derives considerable benefits not only from the products of biodiversity but also from services of ecological systems, such as water purification, erosion control, and pollination. The relationship between biodiversity and

BOX 3-1 Types of Ecosystem Services Linked to Biodiversity

  • Gaseous composition of the atmosphere
  • Moderation of local and regional weather, including temperature and precipitation


  • Water quality and quantity
  • Stream-bank stability
  • Control of severity of floods
  • Stability of coastal zones (through presence of coastal communities, such as coral reefs, mangroves, or seagrass beds)

Biological and Chemical

  • Biotransformation, detoxification, and dispersal of wastes
  • Cycling of elements, particularly carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur
  • Buffering and moderation of the hydrological cycle
  • Nutrient cycling and decay of organic matter
  • Control of parasites and disease, pest control
  • Maintenance of genetic library
  • Habitat and food-chain support


  • Crop production, timber and biomass energy production, pollination
  • Stabilization of soils

Economic and Social

SOURCE: Adapted from Daily 1997.

ecosystem services is complex and will be discussed in greater detail later, but in general, most ecosystem services are degraded or diminished if the biodiversity of an ecosystem is substantially diminished. Because most ecosystem services are provided freely by natural systems, we typically become aware of their value and importance only when they are lost or diminished.

Historically, ecosystem services were not generally scarce and management decisions were rarely based on their low marginal value. That is decreasingly true, particularly with regard to drinking-water quality, flood control, pollination, soil fertility, and carbon sequestration. This trend is prompting interest in developing institutional frameworks through which to restore and safeguard these services in the United States and internationally.

The cost of the loss of various ecosystem services can be high. The US National Marine Fisheries Service estimated that the destruction of US coastal estuaries in 1954&ndash1978 costs the nation over $200 million per year in revenues lost from commercial and sport fisheries (McNeely and others 1990). Hodgson and Dixon (1988) calculated the cost of the potential loss of the service that the forested watershed of Bacuit Bay in the Philippines provides in preventing siltation of the coastal coral ecosystem. The forest prevents siltation: if it were cut, siltation would increase, thereby reducing tourism and fisheries revenues. In a scenario in which logging is banned in the basin, the net present value of a 10-year sum of gross revenues from all three sources would be $42 million. In a scenario of continued logging, the net present value would be only $25 million. One recent and controversial set of global estimates of the value of ecosystem services is discussed in chapter 5.

The value of various ecosystem services can also be seen in the costs that must be incurred to replace them. For example, natural soil ecosystems help to maintain high crop productivity, and the productivity that is lost if soil is degraded through erosion or through changes in species composition can sometimes be restored through the introduction of relatively expensive fertilizers or irrigation. Forested watersheds slow siltation of downstream reservoirs used for hydropower a forest is altered and sedimentation increases, the hydroelectric power generating capacity lost could be replaced through the construction of new dams. Wetlands play important roles as "buffers", absorbing much stream runoff and preventing floods if wetlands are filled, their flood-control role could be assumed by new flood-control dams. The US Army Corps of Engineers estimated that retaining a wetlands complex outside Boston, Massachusetts, realized an annual cost savings of $17 million in flood protection (McNeely and others 1990).

The conversion of one type of habitat to another&mdashsuch as a conversion of natural forest to agriculture or of agricultural land to suburban development&mdashcan dramatically affect a wide variety of ecosystem services. Historically, the impacts of such conversions on ecosystem services have not received attention from policy-makers and managers, for two main reasons. First, the relationship between an ecosystem and a service is typically poorly understood. The conversion of a park to a parking lot will obviously change patterns of water runoff, but other effects of habitat conversions are difficult to predict. For example, the replacement of native vegetation in the western Australian wheatbelt with annual crops and pastures reduced rates of transpiration, increased runoff, and consequently raised the water table, creating waterlogged soil. Salts that had accumulated deep in the soil salinized the soil surface. The saline wet conditions altered ecosystem services by reducing farmland productivity and reducing the supply of freshwater. Restoring such degraded ecosystems can take decades and be accomplished at high cost. In addition, the changes threatened the remaining fragments of

native communities and salinized the region's freshwater lakes. Careful research could probably have predicted many of those effects, but such research is rarely undertaken before a land-use change (Heywood 1995).

Second, ecosystem services are often public goods. Individual landowners who cut their forests bear little if any of the cost associated with the reduction of water quality experienced by downstream water-users. Similarly, the flood control service that is lost when landowners fill their wetlands might have little direct effect on those landowners, but the private economic benefits of land conversion to agriculture will be important (see the following case study on the Everglades). Such losses are described in economic terms as "externalities" the changes in the environment occur as a result of economic activity, such as land development or cutting forests for lumber, but the losses are external to the market transactions.

Case Study: The Everglades

This case study shows the complexity of valuing ecological resources and developing achievable scenarios for ecological and economic sustainability in a watershed system, particularly one in which human activities that change the quality or flow of water in one area affect the biological uniqueness, aesthetic value, and local economy of other areas.

The Everglades are part of the largest wetland ecosystem in the lower 48 states. Historically, water from the Kissimmee River flowed southward into Lake Okeechobee and during wet years overflowed the southern rim of the lake, spreading across the Everglades in a broad "river of grass" that slowly flowed southward to the Florida Bay estuary. The large spatial scale of the system, the highly variable seasonal and interannual patterns of water storage and sheet flow across the landscape, and the very low concentrations of nutrients in the surface waters led to a unique assemblage of wading birds, large vertebrates, and fish and plant communities in a mosaic of habitats over the region (Davis and Ogden 1994).

Since the early 1990s, the environment of Southern Florida has undergone extensive habitat degradation associated with hydrological alterations by humans. Initially, these were to drain land for agriculture and human settlements later alterations were to protect against flooding. The resulting Central and Southern Florida Project (the C&SF Project) of the US Army Corps of Engineers is one of the most massive engineered hydrological systems in the world. The human population of Southern Florida is now 4.5 million and growing at a rate of almost 1 million per decade, mostly concentrated along the lower eastern coast.

The Everglades has been compartmentalized for a variety of land uses: agriculture in the north, where the largest accumulations of organic soils once existed water conservation areas in the central portions and the Everglades National Park in the south. The Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) covers about

27% of the historical system, the water conservation areas 33%, the park 21%, urban areas about 12%, and various nondeveloped areas about 7% (Gunderson and Loftus 1993). About half the original Everglades remains in some semblance of its natural state in the water-conservation areas and the park (Gunderson and others 1995).

The construction of canals, levees, and pumping stations has changed the hydrology of the entire system, leaving it vulnerable to a variety of influences. There have been population declines in native species for example, during the last decade, populations of wading birds averaged less than 10% of their historical highs. Populations of a dozen animal species and 14 plant species have been so reduced that they are now endangered or threatened. Nonnative and nuisance species, such as Melaleuca quinquinervia (a tree introduced from Australia in the early 1990s to help drain the Everglades) and the Brazilian pepper tree (Schinus terebinthifolius), have invaded extensive areas, outcompeting native plants. In the converted agricultural areas, soil subsidence and water-level declines so great that they are measured in feet (Alexander and Cook 1973) have increased the susceptibility of the Everglades to drought and fires. Agriculture has introduced excessive nutrients into the system, and the decreased overland flow of freshwater has resulted in salt-water intrusion into the Everglades National Park and along areas of urban development to the east. If the present ecosystem continues to degrade, ecological sustainability cannot be achieved without fundamental changes (Davis and Ogden 1994).

Over the last several decades, state and federal programs have been created to address water-conservation problems in the Everglades. Crises resulting from a failure of existing policies have led to major reconfigurations and new institutions, structures, and policies (Gunderson and others 1995). Even among the agencies and institutions that were concerned primarily with the ecological functioning of the Everglades, there were conflicts over specific management objectives, owing in part to differences in the legal mandates governing the different management agencies. Conflicts were also generated by a lack of critical data needed to evaluate the likely effects of potential manipulations of the hydrological regimes of today's Everglades and by legal and other constraints on the options considered and evaluated by the agencies.

The agencies recognized that single-purpose interventions were unlikely to succeed and that restoration activities needed to be evaluated in a system-wide context. There was also common recognition that it was impossible to recreate precisely the original ecological conditions, because the drainage system had been altered in irreversible or very difficult-to-reverse ways. At issue were maintenance of the integrity of the watershed and water quality, preservation of biodiversity in a region of great interest, conservation of endangered species as required by law, and the sustainability of natural resources in a setting of rapid economic and population growth. Two current examples illustrate the complexity of the process.

The US Army Corps of Engineers recently completed a reconnaissance report for the C&SF Project (COE 1994). This represented the first phase of the corps's effort to examine ways to modify the C&SF Project to restore the Everglades and Florida Bay ecosystems while providing for other water-related needs of the area. Restoration objectives included increasing the total spatial extent of wetlands, increasing habitat heterogeneity, restoring hydrologic structure and function, restoring water quality, improving availability of water, and reducing flood damage on tribal lands. Recognized constraints included protection of threatened and endangered species, minimizing loss of services provided by the C&SF Project, and minimizing regional and local social and economic disruption. The reconnaissance study was the first step in development of a restoration plan. It set the stage for feasibility studies to develop further the most promising alternatives and recommend a plan for authorization by Congress.

The second example is a 4-year US Man and the Biosphere (US MAB) study on ecosystem management for sustainability of southern Florida ecological and associated societal systems (Harwell and others in press). This project places water-management and biodiversity issues into an ecosystem-management framework that presumes that the last century's fragmented and compartmentalized approach to management must evolve to one that explicitly recognizes the mutual interdependence of society and the environment. Such an approach will require integration of theory and knowledge from the natural sciences with analyses of societal and ecological costs and benefits of ecosystem restoration.

The US MAB project defined ecological sustainability goals for each component of the landscape with a focus on core areas of maximal ecological goals and buffer areas to support the attainment of those goals, established plausible management scenarios, and examined how the scenarios were related to the desired goals for sustainability of the regional ecological and societal systems (Harwell and Long 1995).

Three management scenarios were examined. The report concluded that only one was ecologically sustainable. It involves using portions of the EAA for dynamic water storage while it remains entirely or partly under private ownership the EAA consists of 280,000 hectares, used primarily for sugar production, with total annual economic activity of about $1.2 billion (Bottcher and Izuno 1994). A National Audubon Society report on the endangered species in the Everglades made a similar recommendation (National Audubon Society 1992). Although this scenario was considered sufficient to achieve the ecological goals for the core areas it was concluded that complete acquisition of the EAA would have too high an economic and social cost (Bottcher and Izuno 1994). However, on the other hand, the sustainability of the sugar industry in the EAA itself is at risk because of extensive soil degradation, possible changes in the subsidies that support sugar prices, political efforts to tax the sugar industry exclusively for funds to restore the Everglades, and economic pressure to acquire EAA lands for residential development. Thus, it was seen that putting part of the EAA in a

buffer to support ecological systems might counteract some of the risks to sustainability of the agricultural system.

The US MAB report suggested possible uses for the EAA that would allow for sugar production to continue and for the water-management needs to be met, thereby linking the sustainability of the ecological system with the societal sustainability of the local community. The analysis concluded that sugar is probably the most desirable form of agriculture for the EAA, in that its nutrient demands and nutrient exports to the Everglades are considerably lower than those of vegetable crops. Sugar agriculture was seen as much preferable to the alternative of housing developments or urbanization. The study concluded that the environment of southern Florida has more than enough water, except in severe drought years, to support all expected urban, agricultural, and ecological needs but that currently the greatest fraction of the freshwater is lost directly to the sea through the engineered system of drainage canals. The critical issue, then, is not competition for resources, but the storage and wise management of this renewable resource.

Risk Management of Ecosystem Diversity and Services

From the standpoint of resource management and policy-making, the link between species diversity and ecosystem services can best be characterized in a risk-management framework. For any given service, a number of changes in the relative abundance of species in an ecosystem could often be made with relatively little impact on the service in question. But addition or removal of particular species could profoundly alter one or more services. Moreover, the presence of a diversity of species&mdashand the genetic diversity in those species&mdashwill aid in the persistence of a particular service in the face of changing ecological and climatic conditions. We rarely have sufficient ecological knowledge of a system to allow an accurate assessment of how a change in species diversity is likely to affect one or more services, although we often can identify at least some of the species whose depletion or addition is likely to matter. Management decisions involving potential impacts of changes in species populations on ecosystem services thus typically confront the problem of analyzing and managing risk in the face of scientific uncertainty.

No two species are identical, so, in a general sense no species in any ecosystem is "redundant". Nevertheless, for any particular ecosystem service, some species could be added or removed from the ecosystem or be replaced with other, nonnative species with little detectable influence on that service. In such cases, one species functionally compensates for another (Menge and others 1994). A clear example is the service that different plant species provide in slowing soil erosion and thereby maintaining clean water and soil productivity. A natural forest is often extremely effective at minimizing soil loss from an ecosystem. However, knowledge of the plant species in a particular forest ecosystem is

necessary before one decides what plant species might be removed without changing the efficiency of erosion control.

Although the species in an ecosystem might perform similar functions, there is insufficient knowledge to predict when removing a species from an ecosystem will have an impact. Species in each ecosystem interact&mdashare linked&mdashand removing them might have serious effect a change that has little effect on one ecosystem service might affect other services profoundly. Species whose low relative abundance would not suggest their large impact on populations of other species in a community are referred to as "keystone" species (Paine 1969 Power and others 1996). The chestnut blight largely eliminated the once-dominant chestnut from eastern deciduous forests (the species is still present, but now grows only in a bushy form), but its loss seems to have had relatively little influence on patterns of water runoff or sedimentation in the region because diverse species of hardwoods growing in similar habitats with similar canopy coverage and similar patterns of evapotranspiration were present in the system. However, if a keystone species were removed or added in this example, it could profoundly affect one or more services. The loss of a keystone species is likely to influence many of the functional processes in an ecosystem, as in the sea otter example earlier in this chapter.

Few communities and virtually no regional ecosystems have been studied in sufficient detail to allow an accurate assessment of all the species that are likely to play keystone roles in relation to various ecosystem services. Often, some species can be identified as likely keystone species in the absence of careful study and experimentation, but ecological science can help little in predicting which other species will play such roles. A virus, for example, could play a keystone role in a particular ecosystem. The rinderpest virus has gradually been eliminated from wild cattle near the Serengeti, and their populations have increased spectacularly over the last 20 years, as have predator populations (Dobson 1995 Dobson and Hudson 1986). The dramatic growth in the population of grazers, however, has reduced recruitment of trees in the area. Indeed, the ages of trees growing in several areas of East Africa suggest that recruitment of trees occurs only rarely and might be strongly influenced by the patterns of disease in the ungulate populations (Dobson and Crawley 1994). Box 3-2 presents some changes in species or populations of particular species that have had substantial effects on ecosystem services.

A particular species might compensate functionally for another that is removed from an ecosystem, but a simplified ecosystem is less likely to maintain a particular ecosystem service than one with a greater diversity of species playing similar functional roles. A reduction in the diversity of species performing similar functions in an ecosystem reduces the likelihood that the related service can persist in the face of changing ecological or climatic conditions. Reduction in the population of a species due to the introduction of a pest or pathogen is less likely to disrupt a particular service if species that are unaffected by the pest or patho-

BOX 3-2 Effects of Changes in Species Diversity or Abundance on Ecosystem Services

  • The introduction of exotic species of Myrica faya with nitrogen fixing-symbionts into Hawaii dramatically increased productivity and nitrogen cycling and altered the species composition of the forests (Vitousek and others 1987).
  • In the absence of flood pulses, the introduced salt cedar, Tamarix , has outcompeted the native cottonwood-willow community. Native birds that have evolved to forage in native plant communities and lizards that have adapted to microhabitat characteristics do not find the salt cedar to their liking (Krzysik 1990).
  • Flying foxes (Pteropodidae) in isolated and faunally depauperate South Pacific island ecosystems are the primary pollinators and seed dispersers and are responsible for ecosystem structure and biodiversity in a comparable way with predators in some continental and intertidal communities (Cox and others 1991). Flying fox populations are declining, and at least 289 plant species, which not only provide ecosystem services but yield 448 economically valuable products, are in jeopardy (Fujita and Tuttle 1991).
  • Desert rodents, through seed predation and soil disturbance, have keystone effects on the biodiversity and biogeochemical processes in desert ecosystems (Brown and Heske 1990). When the three resident species of kangaroo rats (Dipodomys) were removed from experimental plot in Chihuahuan Desert scrub, perennial and annual grasses increased 3-fold over a 12-year period, appreciably changing the vegetation structure of the desert ecosystem.

gen play similar functional roles. Similarly, climatic change is less likely to affect a particular service if a diversity of species perform similar functional roles. Each species is likely to be affected differently by a given change in climate, so the risk that all species involved in a particular service will be lost from a system is lessened.

Another way that diversity could affect ecosystem services is by increasing their stability. Again, the underlying idea is simple. In the face of year-to-year fluctuations or sustained directional changes in climate or soil fertility or other environmental conditions, productivity and nutrient cycling are more likely to be sustained at high rates if a number of species are present. Some species might be most effective under current conditions while others might become more important unless conditions change. For example, in an 11-year field experiment based on 207 grassland plots, increased plant species diversity resulted in greater stability in the community and ecosystem process in experimental plots, especially in the face of a severe drought (Tilman 1996 Tilman and Downing 1994). Experimental studies also indicate, for example, that species diversity itself can influence some ecosystem services, particularly in species-poor systems. In their study of artificial tropical communities in which experimental plots contained 0, 1, and 100 species

of plants, Ewel and colleagues found that the total number of species had a greater effect than species composition on a variety of biogeochemical processes (Ewel and others 1991). Artificial communities with different combinations of one to four species also differed dramatically in net primary productivity: productivity was higher with more species (Naeem and others 1994).

Those results are all consistent with the idea that one of the benefits of diversity is that it increases the likelihood that a species that is highly productive under any particular conditions will be present in the community (Hooper 1998 Hooper and Vitousek 1998). Where highly productive species have been identified in advance and conditions are managed so as to be suitable (as in agricultural monocultures), very high rates of productivity can be attained without much onsite diversity. For example, American farmers produce on average about 7 tons of corn per hectare, but when challenged, as in National Corngrowers' Association competitions, farmers have tripled those yields, producing 21 tons per hectare. Annual yields of biomass up to 550 tons/ha are theoretically possible for algal cultures yields half as great have been achieved (Waggoner 1994).

Social and Cultural Values

Many people develop a deep aesthetic appreciation for biodiversity and its components. This appreciation has several dimensions, including an appreciation of how biodiversity reveals the complex and intertwined history of life on Earth and a resonance with important personal experiences and familiar or special landscapes. Interest in nature is manifest in many hobby activities, including bird-watching and butterfly-watching keeping reptiles, tropical fish, and other ''exotic'' species as pets raising orchids or cacti participating in native-plant societies viewing nature photographs and reading nature writing and watching nature televisions shows. Kiester (1997) has suggested that such experiences provide the basis for a connoisseur's appreciation of biodiversity. By cultivating a connoisseur's perspective, we might develop a better understanding of the aesthetic value of biodiversity just as art critics and scholars help us to appreciate art.


Biodiversity holds the potential for applied knowledge through the discovery of how different species have adapted to their varied environments (Wilson 1992). That is, biodiversity holds potential insights for solutions to biological problems, both current and future. We might discover bacteria that inhabit hot springs and have evolved enzymes that function at unusually high temperatures, as in the case of PCR described earlier. We might discover novel predator defense mechanisms of plants and develop previously unimagined alternatives to pesticides for our foods. Or from indigenous peoples we learn about poison-dart frogs study of


Biodiversity is an indication of the variety of different species living in a particular place. Human activity has made the planet less diverse so now conservation strategies are being employed to try and reverse some of the mess we’ve made.


Biodiversity is defined as the variety of living organisms in a particular habitat. Habitats such as a tropical rainforest, which host an abundance of plant and animal life, have higher biodiversity compared to desert or arctic habitats. Biodiversity can be defined in different ways:

Tropical rainforests have high levels of biodiversity

Species diversity - the variety of different species living in an area

Habitat diversity - the number of different habitats within an area

Genetic diversity - the number of different alleles within a population


A species is described an ‘endemic’ if it is found in one location only. For example, the Malabar climbing frog is endemic because there is just a single population living in India. Endemic species are vulnerable to extinction because if a natural disaster or some other threat to their survival wipes out the population, there will be no other individuals remaining. This means that conservation programmes are particularly important for endemic species.

Heterozygosity Index

Genetic diversity is a measure of the number of different alleles within a population. It can be measured using something called the Heterozygosity Index which calculates the extent of genetic diversity by determining the proportion of heterozygotes (genotypes with two different alleles) within a population. The higher the number of heterozygotes, the higher the genetic diversity. The Heterozygosity Index is measured using the equation below:

Index of Diversity

Species diversity can be measured by calculating the Index of Diversity (D) of a particular habitat. It takes into account both the number of different species and the abundance of each species. The larger the value for the Diversity Index, the more biodiverse the habitat is. It is calculated using the following equation:

You should be given this formula in the exam so there is no need to memorise it! But you do need to remember what each component of the equation represents. N is the total number of organisms of all species living in that habitat and n is the number of organisms of a single species. Look at the example below to see how the Index of Diversity is calculated:

The table below shows the species present in a woodland habitat and their population size.

When calculating the Index of Diversity, the best way to organise your answer is to add another column to the table to work out n (the population size of each species) x n-1. We will then add all of these values together to work out the sum of n(n-1). We also need to add together the population sizes of all the species to get a value for N, which is then multiplied by N-1. Our N(N-1) value will be divided by the Σn(n-1) value to calculate the Index of Diversity (D). A value of 1 means there is no diversity at all (i.e. only one type of species is living in the habitat). As biodiversity increases, D also increases.

Conserving Biodiversity

Over the past few hundred years, biodiversity has decreased because of human activities. Hunting, deforestation and pollution have already caused some species to become extinct. Human beings have a moral duty, along with economic incentives, to maintain biodiversity for future generations - this is mostly done through conservation. Conservation involves the protection and management of endangered species. Zoos carry out conservation work to protect animals from extinction and seedbanks conserve biodiversity by storing seeds of endangered plants. Zoos and seedbanks are also important for educating the public about the importance of conserving biodiversity and valuable scientific research takes place at these institutions, enabling us to learn more about different animal and plant species to help conservation efforts.

Zoos can save animals from extinction through captive breeding programmes, where animals are bred in captivity to increase their population size. Captive breeding is controversial and often ineffective. Some people believe that it is unethical to keep animals locked up, even if it is for the good of the species, and the fact that zoos are so different from the animals’ natural habitat means that they can struggle to reproduce successfully. The giant panda is notoriously difficult to breed in captivity, with many zoos having to resort to artificial insemination to produce panda offspring.

Pandas struggle to reproduce successfully outside their natural habitat.


The Millennium Seed Bank which is coordinated by Kew Gardens in the UK houses the world’s largest collection of wild seeds.

Seedbanks are places which store a variety of different seeds from different plant species. They try to store seeds from plants with different phenotypes so that they have a stock of lots of different alleles which may prove useful in the future. They help protect plants from extinction because if a plant becomes extinct in the wild, the seedbank can grow new plants to replace it from the seeds in its collection. In order to keep a stock of viable seeds, the seedbank needs to keep conditions cold and dry. However, seeds do not stay healthy indefinitely, so every so often the seeds need to be planted and new seeds taken from the growing plant.

The reasons seeds are stored rather than fully grown plants are that seeds take up less space and require less maintenance, which makes conservation cheaper because less labour is needed. Growing plants from lots of different parts of the world would require replicating lots of different climates and the plants would be more vulnerable to damage or disease.

Reintroducing organisms into the wild

Storks are an example of an organism bred in captivity and reintroduced in the wild to prevent extinction

Sometimes animals bred in captivity or plants grown in seedbanks can be reintroduced into the wild. For example, storks have been reintroduced into their natural habitat in the UK after being bred in captivity - they had been extinct as breeding pairs in Britain since 1416. Reintroducing organisms into their wild habitat can boost population numbers and protect them from becoming extinct. It will also have an impact on the other organisms in the food chain which prey on these animals. However, reintroduction can be problematic since animals that have been brought up in captivity haven’t learned how to survive in the wild. Reintroduced organisms can also bring new diseases into habitats, infecting wild populations.

5.3: Importance of Biodiversity - Biology

5.3.2 Populations and Sustainability

a) explain the significance of limiting factors in determining the final size of a population

  • A habitat cannot support a population ledger because of factors that limit poplulation size.
  • Factors:
    • food
    • water
    • light
    • oxygen
    • space
    • shelter
    • parasites/predators
    • competition

    b) explain the meaning of the term carrying capacity

    c) describe predator–prey relationships and their possible effects on the population sizes of both the predator and the prey

    • Predation can act is a limiting factor on the population of prey which can then be a limiting factor on the population of the predator.
    • Predators population increases hence more prey are eaten
    • Prey population gets smaller hence less food for predators
    • Less food hence fewer predators survive
    • Fewer predators hence fewer prey eaten hence prey population increases
    • More prey hence more food hence higher predator population

    d) explain, with examples, the terms interspecific and intraspecific competition

    • Intraspecific
      • Competition between members of the same species.
      • Survival of the fittest
        • The best adapted will survive
        • Population size decreases hence competition decreases hence population increases
        • Population size increases hence competition increases hence population decreases
        • Competition between different species hence can effect the population size of a species and the distribution
        • Example:
          • Two species of Paramecium - Paramecium aurelia and Paramecium caudatum
          • Both occupied the same niche however Paramecium aurelia was better adapted
          • Paramecium caudatum died out
          • This is know as competitive exclusion principle

          e) distinguish between the terms conservation and preservation (HSW6a, 6b)

          • Conservation
            • Active management and reclamation of land
            • Protecting land and leaving it in it's untouched form e.g. National Parks

            f) explain how the management of an ecosystem can provide resources in a sustainable way, with reference to timber production in a temperate country

            • Sustainable Management
              • Sustainable management means maintaining biodiversity whilst also financially securing timber production companies.
              • Coppicing
                • Cutting a deciduous tree close to the ground to encourage shoots to grow
                • These shoots can be cut and used for fencing, firewood or furniture
                • Once cut new shoots grow and the cycle continues
                • Same as coppicing but higher up
                • This is to keep them out of reach of herbivores like deers
                • Dividing a woodland into sections and cutting down different sections at a time to allow the other sections to regrow
                • Some trees are left to produce larger timber these are called standards
                • Very good for biodiversity as unmanaged woodlands end up going through secondary succession thus blocking out light to the woodland floor
                • Clear-felling
                  • All the trees in an area are cut down
                  • This reduces mineral levels and leaves soil susceptible to erosion
                  • Leaving each section of the woodland for 50-100 years before felling is economically unviable
                  • Modern Sustainable Practices:
                    • Any tree harvested is replaced by another tree
                    • The ecological function of a forrest is not disturbed by the extraction of timber
                    • Local people derive benefit
                    • Cut down only the most valuable trees hence the biodiversity in maintained and the habitat unaffected
                    • control pests and pathogens
                    • only plant tree species they know will grow well
                    • position trees optimal distances apart

                    g) explain that conservation is a dynamic process involving management and reclamation

                    • Conservation required careful management to maintain a stable community
                    • Strategies to manage conservation:
                      • Increasing carrying capacity by providing more food
                      • Move individuals to enlarge populations or help with the natural dispersion
                      • Restrict dispersal of individuals by fencing
                      • Control predators and poachers
                      • Vaccination against diseases
                      • Preservation of habitats

                      h) discuss the economic, social and ethical reasons for conservation of biological resources (HSW6b, 7c)

                      • Many species are a valuable food source
                      • Genetic diversity of wild strains may provide useful characteristics in the future
                      • Provide access to drugs that we may use in the future
                      • Natural predators of pests can act as biological control agents
                      • Wild insects help pollinate plants
                      • Reduction in biodiversity leads to reduced climate stability

                      i) outline, with examples, the effects of human activities on the animal and plant populations in the Galapagos Islands (HSW6b).

                      • Habitat Disturbance
                        • Dramatic increase in population has placed demands on water, energy and sanitation services
                        • Increases pollution, expansion of agricultural land and building have destroyed the habitat
                        • Seal and whale hunters killed large populations of the animals faster than they could replenish
                        • Tortoises need little food and could be stored on ships for long time as a source of food
                        • Demand for exotic marine life such as the sea cucumber and shark fins have devastated populations
                        • Humans on purpose brought some species on to the islands such as goats, cats, fruits and vegetables and not on purpose brought over other species such as rats and insects.
                        • These new species out competed the locals, destroyed native habitats and just out right ate the locals.
                        • Combated this by:
                          • Adding a new quarantine system to prevent the introduction of non native species by tourists
                          • Natural predators exploited to kill pests
                          • Culling of feral goats and pigs

                          “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.” -Charles Darwin (Discovered Theory of Evolution) />

                          Watch the video: The importance of biodiversity (July 2022).


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