Biodiversity, which is short for ‘biological diversity’, is all of the amazing variety of life on Earth, in all its forms and all its interactions. It encompasses diversity on many levels; the vast number of species of plants and animals, the genetic diversity within and between these species and the different biomes and ecosystems of which they are part, including forest, bog, tundra and desert. Biodiversity also includes the diversity within microscopic organisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi.Biodiversity supports everything in nature that we need to survive: food, clean water, medicine, and shelter.
While Earth’s biodiversity is so rich that many millions of species have yet to be discovered, many species are being threatened with extinction due to human activities, putting the Earth’s magnificent biodiversity at risk. We are currently moving towards a sixth mass extinction event, with the same result as the famous asteroid explosion that took out the dinosaurs, with species disappearing about 1,000 times faster than normal rates of extinction. The number of animals living on the Earth has plunged by half since 1970. The number of tigers has plunged by 97% in the last century.
Without biodiversity, there is no future for humanity. If you live in a town or city then you might think that wildlife is just something you watch on television. However, the reality is that the air you breathe, the water you drink, the food you eat and almost all the resources you consume are produced by biodiversity. The vast interconnected network of all the Earth’s life forms generates the ecosystem services that provide these resources. Some examples are obvious: without plants and phytoplankton there would be no oxygen and without bees to pollinate there would be no fruit, nuts or seeds. Others are less obvious – bogs, forests and marshes absorb excess rainfall reducing flooding and purifying water while coral reefs and mangrove swamps provide nurseries for most commercial fish species and invaluable protection from cyclones and tsunamis for those living on coasts. In urban areas, trees absorb pollutants and help purify the air while it has also been proven that together with green spaces they improve mental health.