to obtain a baseline estimate of the world's total biodiversity . . .
What is biodiversity?
Biodiversity, or biological diversity, is the variety of life found across the globe. A biodiverse ecosystem can contain many different types of species and many different types of habitats. Biodiversity also represents the genetic diversity within a single species. All together, biodiversity encompasses all the living organisms and the ecosystems they inhabit that make Earth unique.
Why is biodiversity important?
Biodiversity makes places unique. Think about a tropical rainforest, a desert, or an alpine tundra. What makes those places special? Just as regional cuisines are defined by their spices and ingredients, ecosystems are defined by their habitats and species. If everywhere on the globe contained the same types of species and the same types of habitats, would it be as fun to travel?
Biodiversity is nature's library. The species that inhabit our globe are nature's solutions to complex problems. Humans have modeled important pharmaceutical drugs after compounds found in plants and have discovered medical treatments from studying certain animals that are resistance to particular diseases. The species on our planet represents nature's creativity; the loss of biodiversity in ecosystems is akin to the loss of books in a library.
Biodiversity is a natural resource that is important to human welfare. Biodiversity provides services and goods that can directly benefit humans. Ecosystems that contain more species or habitats can provide more services--like cleaning air and water, regulating climate, or storing carbon--than ecosystems that have low diversity. Biodiverse ecosystems can also be healthier, more sustainable, and more stable than those that are not biodiverse. Even ecosystems that may appear biologically impoverished may hold important surprises upon closer inspection.
Biodiversity has intrinsic value. Although intrinsic value is hard to quantify, we at DLIA recognize that biodiversity has worth beyond its measurable characteristics. We feel the father of biodiveristy, Professor E.O. Wilson expresses this eloquently in The Future of Life "Each species--American eagle, Sumatran rhinoceros, flat-spined three-toothed land snail, furbish louswort, and on down the roster of ten million or more still with us--is a masterpiece . . .Each species, when examined closely, offers an endless bounty of knowledge and aesthetic pleasure."
How do we measure biodiversity?
Though there are many metrics that scientists use to describe and measure biodiversity, one of the most common ways is by counting, or censusing, the number of species in a defined area. Sometimes measuring biodiversity can be relatively straightforward if you only want to census certain types of species or only for a small area, like counting the total number trees in a small forest or the number of flowering plants in a meadow.
However, counting species can be very challenging if you want a complete census of all the species that are found in a certain area. Many animal species migrate and can only be found in habitats during certain times of the year. Some insects have very long life cycles, like 17 year cicadas where adults can only be found once every 17 years. Other insects have very short life cycles, like mayflies where adults can only be found for a few days. Additionally, much of the globe's biodiversity is very, very small. Humans have only begun to count and describe the billions of microscopic organisms that inhabit our planet.
How do we conserve biodiversity?
Unfortunately, we need to do more than create nature reserves to protect biodiversity. Global threats like climate change, acid rain, harvest, and introduction of nonnative species do not abide by man-made boundaries and can reduce biodiversity. This means we need to know the extent of a species species distribution, and a first step to ensuring conservation of species is by knowing where we can find certain species. After we identify which species are where, we can begin to learn about each species' abundance, and natural history to provide the best long-term protection. Additionally, this information can contribute to future conservation planning and collaboration with citizen conservationists. We believe that biodiversity conservation requires a persistent scientific-led effort of discovery that involves the cooperation of citizens, reserve staff, local communities, and researchers.