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Biodiversity

The most straightforward definition is "variation of life at all levels of


biological organization". A second definition holds that biodiversity is a
measure of the relative diversity among organisms present in different
ecosystems. "Diversity" in this definition includes diversity within a
species and among species, and comparative diversity among
ecosystems.

The word 'biodiversity' is a combination of two words: biological and


diversity. It refers to the variety of life on Earth. Biodiversity
encompasses all the living things that exist in a certain area, in the air,
on land or in water: plants, animals, microorganisms, and fungi. The
area considered may be as small as your backyard compost heap — or as
big as our whole planet.

Animals and plants don't exist in isolation. All living things are
connected to other living things and to their non-living environment
(earth forms, rocks and rivers). If one tiny species in an ecosystem
becomes extinct, we may not notice, or think it's important. But the
biodiversity of that ecosystem will be altered, and all the ecosystems that
the species belonged to will be affected.

Three types of biodiversity

There are three aspects to biodiversity: species diversity, genetic diversity


and ecosystem diversity. All three interact and change over time and
from place to place.

Species diversity refers to the variety of different living things.

Genetic diversity refers to the variations between individuals of a species


— characteristics passed down from parents to their offspring.

Ecosystem diversity refers to the great variety of environments produced


by the interplay of the living (animals and plants) and non-living world
(earth forms, soil, rocks and water).

Species diversity

Species diversity refers to the variety of different types of living things on


Earth, such as bacteria, fungi, insects, mammals, plants and more.
Different species have different roles to play within ecosystems. To
remain healthy, most ecosystems require thousands of different species
making up their food webs.

A species can be defined as a group or population of similar organisms


that reproduce by interbreeding within the group. Members of a species
do not normally reproduce with members of any other species.
Human beings, for example, belong in a single species — Homo sapiens.
Although there are different populations of humans, with different
characteristics in different parts of the Earth, they can all successfully
interbreed with each other and produce normal offspring. So, even
though no two human beings are exactly alike, humans make up a single
species because they reproduce among themselves.
All the different breeds of dogs, from Great Danes to Chihuahuas, belong
in a single species, because they can interbreed and produce fertile
offspring. Dogs and foxes, however, are different species because they
can't interbreed.

Similarly, all horses belong in one species because they can interbreed.
But horses and donkeys are different species because, although they can
interbreed, their offspring (mules) are sterile.

Genetic diversity

If you think of a group of people in your street, or within your own


family, no two will be exactly alike. All are humans, but all are different.
These differences are due to genetic diversity, that is, the variety of genes
within a species.

Each species consists of individuals with their own particular genetic


composition. When the individuals interbreed, their offspring have new
combinations of the genes, resulting in new mixtures of the
characteristics of the species.

This diversity of characteristics is essential for the survival of healthy


populations in natural communities. When the environment of a
community changes, as they do all the time, some individuals will have
characteristics that suit the new environment. They are more likely to
survive and produce offspring that are also suited to the new
environment. As a result, the whole population may change. This is how
the process of adaptation occurs.

The story of the peppered moth (Biston betularia) provides a good


example of a species adapting to changes in its environment. In pre-
industrial England, almost all peppered moths were grey with dark
flecks. However, there were also a few peppered moths that were black.
During the day, moths rested on greyish, lichen-covered tree trunks. The
grey peppered moths were well camouflaged on the grey trunks, but the
black moths stood out and tended to get eaten by birds.

This situation was reversed by the industrial revolution in England. The


pollution from factories killed the lichens on the tree trunks, leaving the
dark bark exposed. With this change in the environment, the black
moths were better camouflaged than the grey ones. Birds ate many more
of the grey peppered moths, so most of the moths that survived to
produce offspring were black. After many moth generations, almost all of
the peppered moths in industrial areas were black. The species had
changed to suit the new environment.
The peppered moths were able to adapt to environmental change because
of their genetic diversity — there were genes for grey and also for black in
the population. This is not always so.
If a small population of a species becomes isolated from the larger group,
the small population is forced to reproduce by breeding within itself — to
inbreed. Inbreeding can result in a loss of genetic diversity, making it
harder for the species to adapt to changing conditions.

This has been the case with a group of Blanding's turtles in Kejimkujik
National Park.

This loss of genetic diversity can eventually result in the extinction of the
population.

Ecosystem diversity

Ecosystems are the combination of communities of living things with the


physical environment in which they live. There are many different kinds
of ecosystems, from deserts to mountain slopes, the ocean floor to the
Antarctic, with coral reefs and rainforests being amongst the richest of
these systems.
Each ecosystem provides many different kinds of habitats or living
places. The living things and the non-living environment (earth forms,
soil, rocks and water) interact constantly and in complex ways that
change over time, with no two ecosystems being the same.
Although ecosystems are ever-changing and complex, some universal
principles apply. One of these is that matter constantly cycles and
recycles. Another principle is that energy moves through the cycle, being
used, absorbed and stored.
For example, forests act as filters for air, absorbing carbon dioxide and
releasing oxygen. Seas are the great stabilizers of climates, with warm
currents moderating temperatures on the land masses they pass.
Mangroves and seagrass beds are the nurseries for marine creatures.
While the sun is a constant source of Earth's energy, energy is also
available from geothermal processes. So while each ecosystem generates
its own relationships, the Earth's environments are interrelated — they
all rely on the sun and the Earth's oxygen and water to survive.
You can begin to appreciate how the elements in each ecosystem are
connected to each other and the diversity that exists amongst Earth's
ecosystems. Maintaining this ecological diversity is important for the
health of the planet.

Ecological values

Every population of every species is part of an ecosystem of interacting


populations and environment and thus has an ecological role to play.
There are products, consumers, decomposers, and many variations of
these roles and others- competitors, dispersers and pollinators, and
more. Some species play ecological roles that are of great importance
than we would predict form their abundance; these are called keystone
species. However, when assessing the ecological roles of species,
conservation biologists are typically conservative and assume every
component of an ecosystem is critical until less proven otherwise
(Ehrlich and Moony, 1983). A species that is relatively unimportant now
may become important as an ecosystem changes through time. For
example, during the last 12,000 years the eastern white pine has varied
form being quite rare to being an ecosystem dominant over large area
(Hunter, 1996).

With a large agenda and limited resources, conservation biologists have


to be efficient strategists, and this often leads to them to target certain
species to advance their overall goal of maintaining biodiversity. Best
known is the flagship species. The charismatic species that have
captured the public's heart and won their support for conservation.
Some species have won concert to conservation across the globe;
consider the cuddliness of the giant panda, haunting songs of humpback
whale, and the grandeur of the tiger or gorilla. Those species are of
important conservation strategic values.

Threats to Biodiversity

There are many threats to biodiversity. One of the problems is simply the
number of people on Earth.
As the Earth's population grows, and people encroach on more and more
land, habitats can become fragmented and degraded. Another threat to
biodiversity is the issue of climate change. There is worldwide concern
over global warming. Pollution of our air and waterways also affects
biodiversity. Over-harvesting depletes the Earth's stocks of animal and
plant resources and the ill-considered introduction of exotic species also
has a negative effect on biodiversity.

Many of these threats to biodiversity are the result of human activity.


But it is also humans who can make positive changes — adopting
attitudes to the Earth's rich resources that will respect and maintain this
diversity.

During the last century, erosion of biodiversity has been increasingly


observed. Some studies show that about one of eight known plant
species is threatened with extinction. Elevated rates of extinction are
being driven by human consumption of organic resources, especially
related to tropical forest destruction. While most of the species that are
becoming extinct are not food species, their biomass is converted into
human food when their habitat is transformed into pasture, cropland,
and orchards. It is estimated that more than 40% of the Earth's biomass
is tied up in only the few species that represent humans, our livestock
and crops. An ecosystem, a contraction of "ecological" and "system",
refers to the collection of biotic and abiotic components and processes
that comprise, and govern the behavior of some defined subset of the
biosphere. Elements of an ecosystem may include flora, fauna, lower life
forms, water and soil. Because an ecosystem decreases in stability as its
species are made extinct, these studies warn that the global ecosystem is
destined for collapse if it is further reduced in complexity. Factors
contributing to loss of biodiversity are: overpopulation, deforestation,
pollution (air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination) and global
warming or climate change, driven by human activity. These factors,
while all stemming from overpopulation, produce a cumulative impact
upon biodiversity.

Over-harvesting (Falls under Resource Limitations)

If we use the Earth's natural resources faster than they can be replaced,
species can become seriously depleted or even extinct. Fish, like cod, can
be over-harvested. Animals like African elephants, rhinoceroses, Asiatic
bears and whales can be hunted almost to extinction for the products
from their bodies.
Much of this sort of trade is highly lucrative and laws meant to protect
species are frequently ignored. We need to be vigilant about using all
resources wisely and protecting those species that are endangered.

Economic Potential of Biodiversity

There have been a number of economic arguments advanced regarding


evaluation of the benefits of biodiversity. Most are anthropocentric but
economists have also debated whether biodiversity is inherently valuable,
independent of benefits to human.

Biodiversity is a source of economical wealth for many regions of the


world, such as many nature reserves, parks and forests, where wildlife
and plants are sources of beauty and joy for many people. Ecotourism,
in particular, is a growing outdoor recreational activity. In 1988, it is
estimated that 157-236 million people took part in ecotourism. The
majority of species have yet to be evaluated for their current or future
economic importance.

Biodiversity may be a source of energy (such as biomass). Other


industrial products are oils, lubricants, perfumes, fragrances, dyes,
paper, waxes, rubber, latexes, resins, poisons, and cork, which can all be
derived from various plant species. Supplies from animal origin include
wool, silk, fur, leather, lubricants, and waxes.

Animals may also be used as a mode of transport.

Biological material can provide models for many industrial materials and
structures. For example, the inspiration for the infrared sensor came
from the thermosensitive pit organ of rattlesnake. The modelling is
considered as Biomimicry.

Various animals are harvested for display and as pet; many species of
plants are harvested for personal and private gardening.

In Britain alone, some 65,000 species are sold for horticulture. It has
been suggested that this form of ex-situ conservation may be the most
practical form in the future.

A wide variety of plants, animals and fungi are used as medicine. Wild
plant species have been used for medicinal purposes since before the
beginning of recorded history. Over 60% of world population depends on
the plant medicines for their primary health care. [1] For example,
quinine comes from the cinchona tree has been used to treat malaria,
digitalis from the foxglove plant treats chronic heart trouble, and
morphine from the poppy plant gives pain relief.

Over 70 % of the promising anti-cancer drugs come from plants in the


tropical rainforests. It is estimated that of the 250,000 known plant
species, only 5,000 have been researched for possible medical
applications.

Biodiversity provides high variety of food: crops, livestock, forestry, and


fish are important food source of human species. However, the number
of species have been domesticated and cultivated are small if comparing
with the number of species existing. Wild species and varieties can
supply genes for improving domesticated species by improving their
yield, disease resistance, tolerance and vigor; this can increase the profit
of farming.

Balance Of Nature

In ecology, the idea that there is an inherent equilibrium in most


ecosystems, with plants and animals interacting so as to produce a
stable, continuing system of life on Earth. The activities of human beings
can, and frequently do, disrupt the balance of nature.

In general, organisms in the ecosystem are adapted to each other – for


example, waste products produced by one species are used by another,
and resources used by some are replenished by others; the oxygen
needed by animals is produced by plants while the waste product of
animal respiration, carbon dioxide, is used by plants as a raw material in
photosynthesis. The nitrogen cycle, the water cycle, and the control of
animal populations by natural predators are other examples.

Note for readers: Two portions – ‘Mitigating people-wildlife conflict’ and


‘India as a mega diversity nation’ have not been covered.