Measuring biodiversity is tough. We don't even know how many species there are on Earth because some of them are undiscovered. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, species just waiting to be discovered and named by the next biologist who comes their way. Scientists have described fewer than 2 million species, and of those, insects dominate the species scene. All those creepy crawlers that no one likes to think about represent the most biodiversity.
Biodiversity can be broken down into three different types of diversity:
- Organismal diversity, which is divided into species, genera, families, orders, phyla and domains or kingdoms
- Ecological diversity, which is broken into populations, communities, habitats, ecosystems, and biomes
- Genetic diversity, which includes genes, chromosomes, individuals and populations
Some examples of biodiversity hotspots are:
- The Brazilian Atlantic forest
- The Chocó region on the Pacific coast of South America
- The Philippines
- Starbucks (no, wait, that's a WIFI hotspot)
Why should we care about biodiversity loss? Does it matter? The answer is yes. We should care, it does matter, and here's one reason why:
We get a lot of benefits from all the life around us. We have food, clean air, and clean water because of the other non-human organisms that share our planet.
Ecosystem services are functions that ecosystems perform that are useful to humans. The air we breathe is kept supplied by oxygen because of photosynthesis. Plants, algae and bacteria are photosynthetic, and without them we would not be alive. We also owe clean drinking water to forests, aquatic plants, invertebrates and microorganisms that absorb rainfall and purify water. Mangroves, seagrasses and coral reefs are nursery grounds for commercial fish. These coastal ecosystems also protect coastlines from damage during storms and tsunamis.
Many of our medicines are derived from plants, including:
- The anti-cancer drug Taxol, first isolated from the Pacific yew tree
- The chemical Vinblastine, used to fight childhood leukemia, found in the Madagascar periwinkle
- The pain medicine Aspirin was developed from the salicylic acid in willow bark; salicylic acid is also good at fighting acne. Thank you, willow trees!
Brain SnackSee a map of biodiversity hotspots around the world here.
Conservation biologists classify species according to their abundance. These categories are: