Biodiversity is the full range of life on Earth, from blue whales to zebras to microscopic bacteria. It includes not only the number of different species but also their genetic diversity and the interconnectedness of ecosystems. Biodiversity is a critical element of the natural world and it sustains human life. Biodiversity loss is one of the greatest threats to humanity.

Humans depend on biodiversity for food, fibers, fuel and medicine. Biodiversity also provides aesthetic and spiritual enjoyment, recreation and education and contributes to a sustainable planet. Many species are endangered or threatened, and the resulting loss of biodiversity has profound social, economic and environmental impacts.

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It’s widely understood that climate change is a threat to biodiversity, and the extinction of species is happening faster than ever before. But what is less well-known is that human activities are contributing to biodiversity loss just as much as global warming. Land use change, pollution, habitat destruction, invasive species and overexploitation are just some of the ways humans are degrading biodiversity.

The Value of Biodiversity

Biodiversity is complex and multifaceted, and there are many different ways to measure it. Some people define it as the number of species on Earth, while others focus on genetic diversity or ecosystem function. Scientists often compare the performance of diverse ecosystems to those that are less biologically rich, and they argue that healthy ecosystems provide a range of services that benefit humans.

The benefits of biodiversity are countless. They include everything from the oxygen we breathe to the food we eat, from clean water to resilient crops. The world’s high-biodiversity ecosystems are a source of livelihood for millions of people who work in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, while nature-related tourism is an important income generator for many more.

All these benefits rely on biodiversity’s interconnectedness. If a habitat or species loses its diversity, it can no longer sustain the communities that depend on it. Biodiversity also provides resilience against global changes. For example, studies suggest that an increase in the diversity of an individual’s gut microbes reduces the risk of disease.

Biodiversity is also vital to our ability to develop new medicines and other scientific discoveries. Around 25% of modern drugs are derived from plants, and many others have been inspired by or mimicked in nature. It is estimated that every time a species goes extinct, we lose an opportunity for cures and other advances in health care. The loss of biodiversity also poses a real danger to our future health, as new diseases are increasingly emerging that are resistant to existing medicines. This makes it more important than ever to protect and preserve biodiversity.