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What is Biodiversity?


Biodiversity encompasses the variation of natural life and its inter-relatedness, from single-celled organisms to the greatest living creatures. There have been various estimates of the number of living species. Most of them are microorganisms and tiny invertebrates, but estimates fall between 5 million and 30 million species currently living on our planet, with only about 1.75 million formally described and named, more than half of which are insects.

Biodiversity can therefore be described as the variety of life within a
given ecosystem or bioregion. It includes all the species present, the genetics of those species and the elements of the landscape that
support those species. Together these form what is commonly called
a community. Understandably then, the complexity of biodiversity is
more than the sum of its parts. Each element mentioned above will contribute to the biodiversity of a region or habitat, but more importantly the interactions between them and their effect on each other will impact directly or indirectly on the biodiversity of a region.

What functions are lost with their demise? Wetlands for example, are
very efficient as natural treatment systems for water. They absorb chemicals, filter pollutants and sediments, break down suspended solids, and neutralize harmful bacteria.


Wetlands clean water before releasing it back into the environment, using the organic content in the process. Without wetlands, large volumes of sediment-heavy water rushes downstream, harming fragile ecosystems. The sediment is dumped into estuaries or shallow coastal areas, which are also sensitive, and play their own role in the life cycle of marine and freshwater species. When the bulldozers arrive to fill a vernal pool or to level wetland, we lose not just the life in that pool and its contribution to the larger ecosystem, but these important functions as well.

To help curb the loss of biodiversity we are currently experiencing, scientists have identified Biodiversity Hotpsots. The California Mediterranean region is one of these. The two criteria for a region to be identified as a hotspot are:
1. It must have 1500 plant species as endemics and
2. It must have lost 70 percent of its original habitat.

Clearly it's both a good and bad thing to be named a Biodiversity Hotspot! In the initial study 25 regions were identified as such. Together these contained 44 percent of all plant species and 35 percent of vertebrate species, but the combined area comprises only 1.4 percent of the total earth surface.

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