Biodiversity is a measure of the variety of organisms within an ecosystem. As defined by the IPCC, biodiversity is:[1]

"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, among species, and of ecosystems."

The above definition is clearly very broad, as it covers many areas within species and ecosystems. Therefore biodiversity can be broken down even further, with there being different types. These include:[5]

  • Genetic diversity - the variety of genetic material within a species, such as the vastly different traits among humans.
  • Species diversity - simply the number of different species present in an ecosystem.
  • Ecological diversity - the variety of terrestrial or aquatic ecosystems found in an area.
  • Functional diversity - the different processes of life, such as energy and matter cycles, that are necessary for the survival of species and communities.
  • Structural diversity - the range of different physical landscapes within a habitat; the more diversity, the more opportunities for different organisms to thrive.

Importance of diversity

The vast differences among and within species are vitally important, and even introduces a sort of co-dependence between organisms. For example, in a given ecosystem, if more plants exist, then plant-eaters have more to eat, thereby causing them to be larger and healthier. Predators then eat these animals and receive more energy from them, and eventually die to be decomposed in the ground. This decomposition then supplies soils with nutrients and allows plants to grow, completing the cycle. This is sometimes referred to as a "natural or biological Internet".[5]

Humanity's ability to make use of nature's diversity has been key to humanity's widespread biological success. Earth's biodiversity supplies humans with food, wood, fuels like coal and oil, chemicals, raw materials, and medicine.[5] All of this helps drive the global economy and supplies almost all of society's needs. Because of this dependence, the loss or degradation of biodiversity within ecosystems is considered to be one of the most important environmental problems.

For Further Reading


  1. Verbruggen, A., W. Moomaw, J. Nyboer, 2011: Annex I: Glossary, Acronyms, Chemical Symbols and Prefixes. In IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation [O. Edenhofer, R. Pichs- Madruga, Y. Sokona, K. Seyboth, P. Matschoss, S. Kadner, T. Zwickel, P. Eickemeier, G. Hansen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow (eds)], Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
  2. Wikimedia Commons [Online], Available:
  3. Wikimedia Commons [Online], Available:
  4. Wikimedia Commons [Online], Available:
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 G. Tyler Miller, Jr. and D. Hackett, "Ecosystems," in Living in the Environment, 2nd ed. USA: Nelson , 2011, ch.4, pp.55-86

Authors and Editors

Liam Goodfellow, Jordan Hanania, Ashley Sheardown, Kailyn Stenhouse, Jason Donev
Last updated: January 4, 2019
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