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Biodiversity (Rev #10, changes)

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Biodiversity is the degree of variation of life forms within a given ecosystem, biome, or an entire planet. Biodiversity is one measure of the health of ecosystems. The study of biodiversity is mainly covered by the closely related scientific fields of taxonomy and systematic biology. Biodiversity is also a key contributor to Ecosystem services.

Rapid environmental changes typically cause extinctions, which reduce biodiversity, at least in the short term. Extinction is an integral part of the history of life on Earth: 99.9% of species that have existed on Earth are now extinct. Nonetheless, the fossil record shows an overall growth in biodiversity. This growth is far from steady, however: the biodiversity took a dramatic plunge during five mass extinction events.

The period since the emergence of humans has displayed an ongoing reduction in biodiversity. Named the Holocene extinction, the reduction is caused primarily by human impacts, particularly the destruction of plant and animal habitat. In addition, human practices such as agriculture have caused a loss of genetic diversity even as the numbers of cultivated plants and animals increase.

Number of species sizes making up various phyla

Estaimates of the number of species making up various phyla (type of creature) is shown below (where the “still to be discovered” number is estimated from the current discovery rate).

As can be seen there is believed to be a huge number of insect species on the earth. A key question is the extent to which this diversity is required for all the “processes” necessary for a functioning biosphere.

Information from the wikipedia page.

Convention on Biodiversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity or CBD, known informally as the Biodiversity Convention, is an international legally binding treaty. It has three main goals:

  1. conservation of biodiversity,

  2. sustainable use of its components, and

  3. fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources.

In other words, its objective is to develop national strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. It is often seen as the key document regarding sustainable development.

The CBD was opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro on 5 June 1992 and entered into force on 29 December 1993. Almost all countries in the world except Andorra, the Holy See and the United States have ratified this Convention. The US has signed, but not ratified it.

Various countries have have established National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans to implement the CBD.

In January 2000, the parties of the CBD adopted the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety?, also known as the Biosafety Protocol. This seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology.

In April 2002, the parties of the CBD adopted the recommendations of the Gran Canaria Declaration?. This called for a Global Plant Conservation Strategy, and urged a sixteen point plan aiming to slow the rate of plant extinctions around the world by 2010.

The following links provide detailed information regarding the CBD and how it operates:

Reports and assessments

We should first include lots of reports and assessments, then summaries of these, and eventually comparisons of these, highlighting areas of agreement and disagreement:

Action plans


Further references

  • E. O. Wilson, The Diversity of Life, W. W. Norton and Company, New York, 1999.

  • Colin Tudge, The Variety of Life, Oxford U. Press, Oxford, 2002. Google Books.

  • PLoS site on biodiversity

  • United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), World Atlas of Biodiversity: Earth’s Living Resources for the 21st Century, University of California Press, 2002.

  • United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Wiki,

category: biodiversity