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Marine Biodiversity

What is Biological Diversity or Biodiversity?

Biodiversity or biological diversity is defined by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity as:

The variability among living organisms from all sources, including, inter alia [among other things], terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part: this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.

This convention was ratified by all countries worldwide with the exception of: Andorra, Brunei Darussalam, the Holy See, Iraq, Somalia, Timor-Leste, and the United States of America.

Within this definition, there are 3 distinct levels of biodiversity:

  • Species diversity: diversity among species present in different ecosystems. This is the diversity of populations of organisms and species and the way they interact.
  • Genetic diversity: diversity of genes within a species and processes such as mutations, gene exchanges, and genome dynamics that occur at the DNA level and generate evolution.
  • Ecosystem diversity: genetic, species, and ecosystem diversity of a given region. This is the diversity of species interactions and their immediate environment.

Today's biodiversity is the result of billions of years of evolution, natural processes, and in more recent years, human activity. Before the advent of Homo sapiens, the Earth's biodiversity was much greater than it is today. Human activity has had a tremendous impact on biodiversity due to use of Earth's resources and exponential population growth.

The total number of species on Earth today is estimated to be around 10 million different species, but could be as low as 2 or as high as 100 million. New species are discovered often, and many that have been discovered have not yet been classified. The richest sources of biodiversity on Earth are found in tropical rainforests and the ocean.

Why is biodiversity important?

All species are an integral part of their ecosystem by performing specific functions that are often essential to their ecosystems and often to human survival as well. Some of the functions different species provide are to:

  • Capture and store energy
  • Produce organic material
  • Decompose organic material
  • Cycle water and nutrients
  • Control erosion or pests
  • Help regulate climate and atmospheric gases

Ecosystem diversity is important for primary production in terms of:

  • Soil fertility
  • Plant pollination
  • Predator control
  • Waste decomposition

Removing species from ecosystems removes those important functions. Therefore, the greater the diversity of an ecosystem the better it can maintain balance and productivity and withstand environmental stressors.

Biodiversity is important economically in terms of:

  • Food resources: agriculture, livestock, fish and seafood,
  • Biomedical research: coral reefs are home to thousands of species that may be developed into pharmaceuticals to maintain human health and to treat and cure disease,
  • Industry: textiles, building materials, cosmetics, etc., and
  • Tourism and recreation: Beaches, forests, parks, ecotourism.

Biodiversity has an intrinsic value because all species:

  • Provide value beyond their economic, scientific, and ecological contributions,
  • Are part of our cultural and spiritual heritage,
  • Are valuable simply for their beauty and individuality, and
  • Also have a right to life on this planet.

We have an ethical responsibility to protect biodiversity. Biodiversity is important to science because it helps us understand how life evolved and continues to evolve. It also provides an understanding on how ecosystems work and how we can help maintain them for our own benefit.


© David Hall/SeaPhotos.com

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