| Story by Meghan McMahon |
What is biodiversity and why does it matter?
As the saying goes, variety is the spice of life. In nature, variety comes in the form of biodiversity, that is the living things present in an area big or small.
Put simply, biodiversity is the collective variety of all living things — plants and animals, of course, but also fungi and bacteria and other microscopic organisms, according to the National Park Service.
Biodiversity is relative to an area. The biodiversity of Earth is vast and sweeping, with scientists estimating there are more than 8.7 million species of living things on the planet, according to National Geographic. Of these, less than 15 percent — about 1.2 million species — have been identified and described. Meanwhile, the biodiversity of your backyard, or a nearby park, is much more limited, with just a small number of species present, because the area is so much smaller.
That doesn’t mean protecting the biodiversity of your yard is any less important than protecting the biodiversity of our planet, however. In any given area — be it a continent or a country or a city block — all living things work collectively to maintain life and support the balance necessary for a healthy ecosystem, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The very variety of species in any given area — large or small — is what helps support life.
Biodiversity is important for reasons both obvious and less apparent. Quite obviously, biodiversity is key for healthy ecosystems, which we rely on for fresh water and clean oxygen and our food supply. It’s also a critical part of the solution to climate change and supports the world economy, according to Conservation International. In fact, more than 40% of the world economy and more than 80% of the needs of the world’s poor are derived from Earth’s biological resources.
Even the essence of who we are is linked to the biodiversity of the planet. Many of our most beloved species are the emblems and symbols of our states and nations, and religions from around the world include nature as a key component. If you’re a proud University of Wisconsin Badgers fan or fan of many of Chicago’s professional sports teams, those species that represent them have become part of your identity. A world without them would not be the same.