‘Biodiversity’ comes from the words ‘biological diversity’. It refers to the number of different species in a particular habitat or area and reflects the rich variety of life forms that live on our planet.

There are three aspects to biodiversity.

  1. The variety that occurs within a single species through the differences in genetic make-up. For example, humans are a single species, but we come in myriad different sizes, shapes, hair and skin colours and other features, according to our genes. A large population helps to preserve biodiversity by avoiding the detrimental effects of inbreeding.
  2. The variety of different species that exist in different environments.
  3. The variety of different ecosystems like grasslands, estuaries and alpine forests. These all combine to make up the biodiversity of our unique planet.

Biologists have identified around 1.5 million different species so far. Estimates of earth’s total number of species range from 10 million to 100 million.

Biodiversity is important because no species or individuals can exist alone. Instead, groups of species live together in mutually beneficial ecosystems, providing each other with food, water, air and dissolved gases. The unexplored biodiversity of South America’s tropical rainforests may yet give us a cure for cancer or provide other medicinal plants. Human beings are part of this interdependence and, like all other species, rely on continuing biodiversity for their survival.