The Biology of Biodiversity

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Human impacts on Biodiversity - Biology for All - FuseSchool

Taxonomists and other scientists in fields such as zoology, botany, ecology, and genetics study biodiversity. Species are becoming extinct faster than scientists can discover them. The loss of biodiversity is an irreversible process: once a species becomes extinct its loss is permanent and irrevocable.

Late-twentieth-century estimates cite the extinction rate between one thousand and ten thousand times greater than it would be naturally. This means that Earth is losing species at the fastest rate in the planet's 4. If extinctions continue at the current rate, in the next one hundred years humankind runs the risk of losing half of the planet's biodiversity.

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Most threats to biodiversity have to do with pressures on natural resources due to human activities. These include habitat destruction and conversion of natural ecosystems to agriculture; flooding for hydroelectric projects; large-scale extraction of natural resources such as mining and logging; excessive hunting and overfishing; pollution from agricultural pesticides, human waste, and industrial processes; and poorly planned urban and suburban sprawl.

Types of Biodiversity

Conserving biodiversity is an urgent matter of common concern and should be an integral part of the development process, as was outlined in the Convention on Biological Diversity. This global, comprehensive agreement was drafted at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit and signed by nations to address all aspects of biological diversity. Its objectives include "the conservation of biodiversity, its sustainable use and the fair sharing of the benefits derived from the utilization of genetic resources.

One conservation strategy aimed at reaching this goal recognizes that biodiversity is not evenly distributed over the planet: certain regions have higher species richness the number of species in an area and endemism the number of species in that area that occur nowhere else than others. Ironically, many of these sensitive areas are also preferred by humans to inhabit, placing tremendous pressure on local biodiversity.

These areas are called the "biodiversity hotspots"; twenty-five of them have been described thus far, including Madagascar, the tropical Andes, the Philippines, and the Atlantic forest of Brazil. Conservationists believe that urgent conservation efforts should be targeted at these regions. These areas are also high in biodiversity but are not so immediately threatened. Cristina G. Agree and close. Biodiversity is the shortened form of two words "biological" and "diversity.


Biodiversity is not only the sum of all ecosystems, species and genetic material. Rather, it represents the variability within and among them.

It can be distinguished from the expression "biological resources", which refer to the tangible components of ecosystems. In some cases the invaders are causing drastic changes and damage to their new habitats e. Some evidence suggests that invasive species are competitive in their new habitats because they are subject to less pathogen disturbance. Invasive species seem to increase local i. Overall gamma diversity may be lowered because species are going extinct because of other causes, [] but even some of the most insidious invaders e. Extirpation , population decline and homogenization of regional biodiversity are much more common.

Human activities have frequently been the cause of invasive species circumventing their barriers, [] by introducing them for food and other purposes. Human activities therefore allow species to migrate to new areas and thus become invasive occurred on time scales much shorter than historically have been required for a species to extend its range. Not all introduced species are invasive, nor all invasive species deliberately introduced. In cases such as the zebra mussel , invasion of US waterways was unintentional. In other cases, such as mongooses in Hawaii , the introduction is deliberate but ineffective nocturnal rats were not vulnerable to the diurnal mongoose.

In other cases, such as oil palms in Indonesia and Malaysia, the introduction produces substantial economic benefits, but the benefits are accompanied by costly unintended consequences. Finally, an introduced species may unintentionally injure a species that depends on the species it replaces. In Belgium , Prunus spinosa from Eastern Europe leafs much sooner than its West European counterparts, disrupting the feeding habits of the Thecla betulae butterfly which feeds on the leaves. Introducing new species often leaves endemic and other local species unable to compete with the exotic species and unable to survive.

Conservation Biology and Biodiversity

The exotic organisms may be predators , parasites , or may simply outcompete indigenous species for nutrients, water and light. For example, the introduction of kudzu from Southeast Asia to Canada and the United States has threatened biodiversity in certain areas.

Bibliographic Information

Endemic species can be threatened with extinction [] through the process of genetic pollution , i. These phenomena can be especially detrimental to rare species that come into contact with more abundant ones. The abundant species can interbreed with the rare species, swamping its gene pool. This problem is not always apparent from morphological outward appearance observations alone.

The Elements of Biodiversity

Some degree of gene flow is normal adaptation and not all gene and genotype constellations can be preserved. However, hybridization with or without introgression may, nevertheless, threaten a rare species' existence. Overexploitation occurs when a resource is consumed at an unsustainable rate. This occurs on land in the form of overhunting , excessive logging , poor soil conservation in agriculture and the illegal wildlife trade. The overkill hypothesis , a pattern of large animal extinctions connected with human migration patterns, can be used explain why megafaunal extinctions can occur within a relatively short time period.

In agriculture and animal husbandry , the Green Revolution popularized the use of conventional hybridization to increase yield. Often hybridized breeds originated in developed countries and were further hybridized with local varieties in the developing world to create high yield strains resistant to local climate and diseases.


Local governments and industry have been pushing hybridization. Formerly huge gene pools of various wild and indigenous breeds have collapsed causing widespread genetic erosion and genetic pollution. This has resulted in loss of genetic diversity and biodiversity as a whole. Genetically modified organisms contain genetic material that is altered through genetic engineering.

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Genetically modified crops have become a common source for genetic pollution in not only wild varieties, but also in domesticated varieties derived from classical hybridization. Genetic erosion and genetic pollution have the potential to destroy unique genotypes , threatening future access to food security. A decrease in genetic diversity weakens the ability of crops and livestock to be hybridized to resist disease and survive changes in climate.

Global warming is a major threat to global biodiversity. Climate change has proven to affect biodiversity and evidence supporting the altering effects is widespread. Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide certainly affects plant morphology [] and is acidifying oceans, [] and temperature affects species ranges, [] [] [] phenology, [] and weather, [] but, mercifully, the major impacts that have been predicted are still potential futures. We have not documented major extinctions yet, even as climate change drastically alters the biology of many species.

In , an international collaborative study on four continents estimated that 10 percent of species would become extinct by because of global warming. Lee Hannah, a co-author of the paper and chief climate change biologist at the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science at Conservation International. Climate change has advanced the time of evening when Brizillian free-tailed bats Tadarida brasiliensis emerge to feed.

This change is believed to be related to the drying of regions as temperatures rise. This earlier emergence exposes the bats to greater predation increased competition with other insectivores who feed in the twilight or daylight hours. The world's population numbered nearly 7. Ehrlich and Stuart Pimm have noted that human population growth and overconsumption are the main drivers of species extinction. According to a study by the World Wildlife Fund , the global human population already exceeds planet's biocapacity — it would take the equivalent of 1.

Rates of decline in biodiversity in this sixth mass extinction match or exceed rates of loss in the five previous mass extinction events in the fossil record. Over the last 50 years, the state of nature has deteriorated at an unprecedented and accelerating rate. The main drivers of this deterioration have been changes in land and sea use, exploitation of living beings, climate change, pollution and invasive species.

These five drivers, in turn, are caused by societal behaviors, from consumption to governance. Damage to ecosystems undermines 35 of 44 selected UN targets, including the UN General Assembly's Sustainable Development Goals for poverty, hunger, health, water, cities' climate, oceans and land. It can cause problems with food, water and humanity's air supply.