Biodiversity is defined as the variety of life on the planet, or in a particular habitat or ecosystem. The number and variety of plants and animals in the world provides for the rich homeland which is our planet. This diversity feeds us, cures us, and regulates our climate and environment.
We are only beginning to discover how the vast and intricate web of life functions and the interconnectedness and interdependence of all living things, including us. It’s a finely balanced system that has worked for millions of years.
With the growth of human population, and the increasing use of our finite planetary resources, researchers are noting a dramatic and some say terrifying trend: species all over the world are going extinct. It’s happening everywhere. And at an unprecedented rate.
As we convert more and more of the planet into cities, highways and farmland, we are losing the natural world literally out from under our feet. And this loss of habitat seems to be the greatest single cause of species extinction. There are other causes as well—pollution, toxic chemicals in the environment, over-harvesting of marine and land animals. Tropical rain forests—where the number and diversity of species was once abundant—are being cut down at the rate of 140,000 km2 per year. Rain forests once covered 14 percent of the earth’s land surface; now they cover a mere 6 percent and experts estimate that the last remaining rain forests could be consumed in less than 40 years.
This devastating rate of loss could have a profound effect on the future of human society, and even survival, in the years to come, if it is not slowed or reversed.
Recognizing the magnitude of the issue, the United Nations declared 2010 as the Year of Biodiversity and 2010-2020 the Decade of Biodiversity.
Biodiversity research is increasing worldwide as scientists try to learn more about the impacts of these trends and develop programs to mitigate them. There’s much more to learn.
Where to find information
Biodiversity is a vast subject. If you are new to it, we suggest you start with these resources first:
Biodiversity resources: starter kit
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
General introduction to biodiversity,
information on global biodiversity conferences
Will we soon be extinct?
By Josh Clark
A short introduction to biodiversity with links to other resources.
A series of articles published by Global Issues on a variety of topics related to Biodiversity.
Convention on Biological Diversity
Signed by 150 government leaders at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the Convention on Biological Diversity is dedicated to promoting sustainable development.