Welcome to the BBRC website
Flamingos in Rift valley

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity in the bacteria in your stomach, the algae in a pond, the spiders in your house, the genes that are the code to create a human, a small patch of grassland, the mosaic of habitats on an island, the Amazon rain forest. In short biodiversity is the variety of life on earth, at all levels, from genes, through to individual organisms to species to vast and expansive habitats and the links and interactions between all of these.

The most widely accepted definition for biodiversity is contained within the Convention on Biological Diversity:

‘Biological diversity’ means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, among other things, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.

Biodiversity can be expressed in different ways. One useful way to look at the variation is to break it down into different levels of biological organisation:
• Genetic diversity
• Species diversity
• Ecological diversity
(For a full biodiversity glossary of terms click here)

Breaking diversity down into different levels is a useful way of looking at the variation but the levels are intimately linked and interact and affect one another. For example genetic diversity can be having a population of moths where some individuals have a gene that makes them camouflaged against a tree with lichen on the bark and some having a gene that makes them camouflaged against a tree with pollution damaged black bark. If pollution increases and more trees get black bark the moths that are camouflaged against this will increase in the population since they are less likely to be seen and hence eaten by birds. The environment affects the genes which affect the diversity within the species and this could affect the ecological diversity as different predators may be affected in different ways by different densities of the two colours of moth.

Drawing lines between where one type of diversity starts and where another type begins is not always possible as there is usually a large amount of overlap. Biodiversity is a continuum and the levels help us simplify a complex system. While many of the elements of biodiversity may be difficult to define rigorously, and in some cases may have no strict biological reality, they remain useful and important tools for thinking about and studying biodiversity. Along with the evolutionary process, the hierarchical organization of biodiversity reflects one of the central organising principles of modern biology.

Whether any one element of biodiversity, can be regarded in some way as the most fundamental, essential or even natural is a contentious issue. For some, genes are the basic unit of life. However, in practice, it is often the species that is treated as the most fundamental element of biodiversity. There are however many definitions of species which can be used. Click here to see different species definitions.

Photo Credit: Nigel Harper, Flamingos


All the latest BBRC news
Please contact us for further details
Detailed search of the BBRC site