What does biodiversity mean? 

We hear biodiversity mentioned in many different discussions related to science, climate change, agriculture, environmental policy and other topics.  It is important to understand what it means, why it is important and why it is relevant.  The context and area make a difference.

Definition of biodiversity in simple terms

Biodiversity refers to the variety of living organisms in a certain area.

It usually refers to the biotic organisms in the environment, as opposed to abiotic factors such as water, soil, climate, etc..  It can be used to talk about different types of biological life in the entire world, or in a particular habitat or ecosystem.   It can be used to discuss plant and animal species and can also include discussions of genes, bacteria, and other microorganisms.  It has become a popular term in discussions about loss of species because of climate change.

Biodiversity synonym

Biodiversity comes from the term “biological diversity”. Other synonyms are biological variety, plurality, and differentials.

Types of Biodiversity

Biodiversity can be narrow or broad.  For example, it may refer to the species and classifications of different organisms, how they interact with one another, how much genetic diversity exists within a species and how the absence or presence of certain organisms affect an ecosystem. A lot can be learned from studying how changes in the variety of organisms affect the function of different ecosystems and how the ecosystems react with one another.  What we learn can help us determine factors that influence the overall health of the planet.

Biodiversity Examples 

Biomes are defined by the biological community within a certain physical climate.  Different biomes will have different levels of biodiversity.  Rainforests normally have more biodiversity than tundra.  Ecosystems within the marine biome will also have varying levels of biodiversity.  Measuring changes in biodiversity helps us understand what happens to the health of the biome as the climate changes.

Importance of Biodiversity

Each organism plays a role within their biological community, from microbes to large predators. All are  interconnected in the ecosystem that make up the natural balance of life.  Disruption in biodiversity can have an affect on air and water quality, soil nutrients, plant pollination, and populations of insects and other animals.  When the balance gets thrown off, it can lead to extinction of one or more species and overpopulation of others.  Examples are: algae blooms, fish kills, overpopulation of insects and/or rodents, disease, blight and/or other.  Variety of organisms helps the ecosystem be more resilient and helps it adapt to changes and controls disease and infestation. When an area is deforested for farming one monoculture crop, it leaves the whole system vulnerable to blight. When predators decrease, their prey increase which can have direct and indirect consequences. When red wolves were decimated along the Carolina coast, racoon populations exploded and began eating more turtle eggs, which led to a decline in sea turtles.  Everything is in a delicate balance. Some of the consequences of changes in biodiversity are not even known.

The Benefits of Biodiversity

Biodiversity has many benefits for both humans and the natural world.

  • Food Security– Biodiversity is a key factor of regenerative agriculture that helps crop resilience to disease and pests, improves soil quality, and increases crop yields.
  • Water quality- different organisms act as natural filters and reduce point source pollution keeping toxins out of the water ways.
  • Air Quality- The oxygen we breathe comes from the photosynthesis of plants that also help capture carbon and other gasses that reduce air pollution.
  • Ecological- Biodiverse ecosystems tend have healthy checks and balances and are less vulnerable to disease, invasive species, and severe weather events
  • Science- Different plants and animals provide scientists with valuable specimens so they can learn more about our planet and make scientific breakthroughs. Less than 20% of species have been studied.
  • Healthcare- Certain species of plants and animals are vital for the production of pharmaceuticals, medicines, and herbal remedies.
  • Culture- certain plants and animals are important for the identity of many cultures in reference to foods, medicines, and ceremonies.
  • Raw Materials- certain plant and animal organisms provided raw materials for clothing, construction, food, medicine, cosmetics, and more
  • Genetic Health- biodiversity is important for healthy reproduction and species survival
  • Remediation of toxins- certain plants, fungi and other organisms are vital for cleaning up toxins and waste.
  • Technology- the study of biomimicry is used to learn from natures eons of trial and error to develop new engineering breakthroughs in aviation design, cities, buildings, products, and more.
  • Economic- biodiversity and the economies are connected in many ways from materials, products, recreation, tourisms, food, science, health and quality of life.

Threats to biodiversity

Human activity and population growth has led to more deforestation for urbanization and slash and burn farming. Habitat loss and reduction in food sources is one of the leading causes for decline in biodiversity.  Increased travel and globalized trade can introduce invasive species into areas where there are no natural predators and devastated native populations.  Unregulated fishing, hunting and over consumption of resources is another major threat to biodiversity. The use of pesticides and over harvesting has wiped out many species.  Air and water pollution from runoff has destroyed many organisms.  Plastic pollution in the oceans  has had a devastating on

Marine animals and sea bird population.  Climate change has completely altered entire ecosystems.

How to Protect Biodiversity?

Everyone from government, business, to individuals, has a role to play in helping to preserve biodiversity.  Land conservation through the formation of national parks, protected biospheres, and public/private land conservation partnerships are being used in countries around the world.  Regenerative agriculture, regulation of pesticides and pollution reduction also are becoming more widespread. Restructuring sustainable food systems, diets, and conscious food consumption is another way everyone can contribute to the cause.



  • The UN Biodiversity Report According to a report issued in Paris 2016 by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), there is overwhelming evidence that there is an dramatic increase in the rate of extinctions that is unprecedented in human history that is accelerating.  The report determines that the current global response is insufficient. There needs to be ‘transformative changes’ made in order to protect nature.  The report goes on to show that resistance from special interests can be overcome for public good.
  • Biodiversity Index The Biodiversity Index is commonly used to calculate the variety of organisms in a given area using a series of tables and charts to categorize each one.
  • Economic Benefit of Biodiversity
  • Biodiversity HotspotsThere are 25-36+ areas that have been labeled as “Biodiversity Hotspots” because of the variety of organisms, rareness of species, and the threat to their existence.


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