The importance of being (biologically) diverse

Candace Webb
23 January 2012

Above: Image © Brocken Inaglory, Wikimedia Commons

Biodiversity is a hot topic in conversations about conservation (say that three times fast!). But why?

Biodiversity is short for “biological diversity” and refers to the number, variety and variability of living organisms found in different regions of our planet. There are three types: genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem diversity. Globally, about 1.75 million species of organisms are known to exist and there may be an even higher number that have not yet been discovered. Unfortunately, many of these species are disappearing at an alarming rate. The primary cause: humans!

Did you know? The Earth is currently in the midst of a mass extinction event for the sixth time in its history.

Threats to biodiversity

According to researchers there are five threats to biodiversity that are directly or indirectly due to human activity: habitat loss, invasive species, population growth, pollution and over-exploitation. (Watch this video for more information. The more we use the earth’s resources and the more pollution we create as a result, the more damage we cause to our natural surroundings.

Did you know? According to Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson, a love of nature or what he calls “biophilia,” is actually hard-wired into the human brain as a result of natural selection.

But even if we love nature, it does not necessarily mean we are doing enough to preserve it. Did you know that if one species disappears completely, it actually affects other species and other habitats, causing a chain reaction that can be detrimental to our earth and our way of life? For example, scientists were able to demonstrate how the loss of pollinating birds in New Zealand caused the decline of a plant called gloxinia, suggesting a dependence of this plant species on the presence of the pollinators. So you see, everything is interconnected.

Did you know? We are currently using the Earth’s ecological resources 1.4 times faster than we are able to regenerate them.

Why should we preserve ecological diversity?

There are many reasons why we need to preserve the earth’s ecological diversity. One is that biodiversity provides us with such basic essentials as food, clothing, shelter and medicines without which we would not enjoy the quality of life we have today. We also rely on a large variety of species in our environment to keep our air and water clean, to regulate our climate and to protect us against pests and diseases.

So, what can you do?

You can slow climate change by taking public transit and conserving energy; refusing to buy products made from endangered species; using recycled paper products; buying sustainably farmed seafood and meat; shopping for produce from local farmers…the list goes on.

Learn More!

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

WWF: Biodiversity 911



“For Want of a Pollinator, a Flower May be Lost or a Forest”, Scientific American, Feb. 4, 2011,

Chapin III, F.S. et al. (2000)Consequences of Changing Biodiversity. Nature 405: 234-242.

Sala et al. (2000) Global Diversity Scenarios for the Year 2100. Science 287: 1770-1774.

Article first published on April 25, 2011

Candace Webb

I graduated from the University of Ottawa in 2006 with a PhD in Biology. I am now a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA, studying the funky circadian rhythms of plants. Besides science, I love to write, hike, paint, bike ride, and hang out at the beach.

Une diplômée de l’Université d’Ottawa, j’ai reçu mon doctorat en biologie en 2006. Je suis présentement boursière postdoctorale à l’Université de Californie à Los Angeles, où j’étudie les rythmes circadiens des plantes. En plus des sciences, j’aime écrire, passer du temps à la plage et faire de la peinture, de la randonnée et du vélo.

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