The term “biodiversity” refers to the totality of living beings on our planet. This means that it includes not only animals and humans, but also plants and microorganisms.
The concept of biodiversity does not simply refer to the diversity that exists on Earth, but also represents how this diversity is essential to the lives of all inhabitants of the planet.
In fact, biodiversity is essential: without it, many of the natural resources we rely on would not exist. This would, therefore, represent a threat to our very lives.
All natural species are closely interrelated within the various ecosystems on the planet. To endanger the existence of one species is to endanger the ecosystem itself and all its resources.
Even the United Nations has recognized the importance of biodiversity. In 1992 the UN adopted the Convention on Biological Diversity, which recognizes biodiversity as an indispensable element in the evolution and preservation of human life on Earth.
Biodiversity: a mind map to focus the concept
As explained earlier, biodiversity (or biological diversity) refers to the richness and diversity of all living species on the planet.
This diversity so fundamental to life can be declined into three hierarchical levels:
- Ecosystem diversity;
- Species diversity;
- Genetic diversity.
The concept of biodiversity today comes to embrace every single element of human, animal or plant diversity. This also includes, for example, the preservation of cultural differences between different populations. It is clear, then, how biodiversity goes far beyond the animal kingdom and how it deeply affects us humans as well.
Ecosystem diversity refers to the richness and difference of the habitats and ecosystems in which organisms live.
The differences between different ecosystems concern both which species inhabit them and their physical and structural characteristics.
These two elements influence each other: on the one hand, the organisms living in a given ecosystem influence the ecosystem itself; on the other hand, it is precisely the characteristics of a certain habitat that define which species will be able to live within it (e.g. climate or humidity).
Because of this mutual influence, the threat of an ecosystem necessarily leads to the threat of its inhabitants.
Species diversity refers to the number of living species that inhabit a given habitat.
To assess species diversity within an ecosystem, both the number of different species within the same habitat and the abundance of each species are taken into account to study which species prevails within the ecosystem.
Finally, genetic diversity indicates the difference within the genetic makeup of individuals of the same species.
Thus, it refers to the diversity at the genotype level of beings of a given species and how it manifests itself in its phenotype (i.e., visible characteristics).
Genetic diversity is considered beneficial to the survival of a species. In fact, diverse genetic characteristics potentially represent a greater chance of adapting to and surviving any changes in its natural habitat.
Biodiversity and evolution
Precisely this last hierarchical level of biodiversity, that of genetic diversity, is critical to ensuring the evolution of a living species.
When changes occur within the characteristics of an ecosystem, the survival of the species within it is directly linked to their ability to cope with that change.
If some living things possess those characteristics that enable them to survive within the new environment, then reproduction of those characteristics will be favored and the species will continue to exist.
Conversely, if no organism of that species possesses the necessary characteristics, the species itself is doomed to disappear.
Plant biodiversity represents a fundamental resource for life on our planet.
Plant organisms form the basis of the diet of all animals, including humans. Since ancient times, they have been used to make medicines necessary for human health. In addition, plant species are essential for the oxygenation of the atmosphere and soil fertility.
There are about 400,000 plant species existing in the world, some of which are threatened with extinction.
In order to preserve plant biodiversity, germplasm banks have been established. Germplasm banks (also called “seed banks”) are facilities where the seeds of those plants that play a key role from a food point of view or are threatened with extinction are deposited and preserved.
The work of germplasm banks is especially crucial as the climate crisis advances, endangering the health of many plant species and threatening their existence.
Marine biodiversity refers to the diversity of organisms, species and ecosystems that exist in underwater habitats.
The Mediterranean Sea is one of the largest sources of marine biodiversity in the world. In fact, although it occupies an area of less than 1 percent of all the world’s seas, it is home to about 17,000 marine species (or about 8 percent of global marine biodiversity).
The marine ecosystem is now highly threatened by pollution, climate change, and the overexploitation of its resources.
Pollution of the seas by micro and macro plastics, for example, is a major threat to the survival of many marine species. It is, therefore, a factor in the possible reduction of marine species diversity.
World biodiversity day
Did you know that there is a world day dedicated to biodiversity?
It is celebrated on May 22 every year.
In fact, the date was chosen to commemorate the adoption of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which was signed on May 22, 1992 at the UN conference held in Rio de Janeiro.
Biodiversity at risk
Biodiversity today is being put at risk by several factors directly related to human activity.
First and foremost is climate change, which causes serious damage to both terrestrial and marine ecosystems, such as:
- Rising sea water temperatures;
- Melting of glaciers;
- Droughts and desertification;
- Natural catastrophes.
In addition, various human activities that unsustainably exploit natural resources threaten biodiversity. For example, some of these activities cause deforestation of large areas of forest.
Deforestation threatens forest ecosystem biodiversity and robs the planet of one of the most effective means of storing carbon: the trees themselves.
When the biodiversity of an ecosystem is put at risk, all inhabitants of that ecosystem are threatened. Indeed, biodiversity reduction has been shown to expose people to dramatic risks, including:
- Loss of food and water sources;
- Increased vulnerability to natural disasters and calamities;
- Reduced health within the ecosystem;
- Increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Another consequence of human intervention that is harmful to biodiversity is the release of pollutant sources into the environment. Pollution endangers the survival of many animal species, leading to heavy impacts on human life as well.
Think, for example, of bees. Bees are responsible for pollinating plants and, therefore, are crucial for their reproduction. According to IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) data, about 87 percent of the world’s wildflowering plants depend on pollination for their reproduction.
The survival of bees is now greatly threatened by pollution and pesticides. If bees were to become extinct, a great many plant species would also disappear with them, seriously endangering the survival of humans as well.
Virtuous examples of biodiversity preservation
REsPoNSO is WWF‘s project aimed at protecting marine biodiversity in Sicily through more sustainable fisheries management and reduction of marine litter.
A large part of marine waste is precisely gear used for fishing. The REsPoNSO project therefore aimed to combat ghost fishing (i.e., the abandonment of fishing gear at sea) by promoting, when possible, the recycling of recovered tools.
The abandonment of fishing gear at sea endangers the survival of many marine animals, which can get caught in fishing nets or suffer injuries from abandoned waste.
The project also addressed training and awareness-raising for fishing operators and led to the development of an app that allows people to report the presence of marine litter.
Missione B is a project launched in Switzerland in 2019 by broadcaster SRF and also promoted by WWF. The project clearly illustrates how anyone can help preserve biodiversity through simple daily actions.
Mission B asks Swiss citizens to provide a corner of their garden or a simple pot on their balcony to make room for native plants that are essential sources of shelter and food for local wildlife.
Through an action as simple as planting a wild plant on your balcony, you can give back to nature a valuable space.
Save The Queen
Legambiente’s Save The Queen project contributes to biodiversity by safeguarding the health and reproduction of bees.
You can support the project through a donation or by adopting a hive, which is a structure used by beekeepers to house a colony of bees.
Hives donated through the project are for organic beekeepers, who operate according to sustainable and environmentally friendly principles and will care for the bee colony.