What is biodiversity and why is it important?

Photograph of a blue tit (_Parus caeruleus_) - blue tits rely on insects to feed their young and an average brood may eat more than 100,00 insects before they fledge.

Blue tits (Parus caeruleus) rely on insects to feed their chicks. An average brood may eat more than 100,00 insects before they fledge. Photograph by Sławomir Staszczu, used under GFDL.

Biodiversity means the variety of life, in all its forms. It includes the variety of species and ecosystems (communities and interrelations of species) in the world, and also genetic variation.

Human beings are dependent for their sustenance, health and well-being on fundamental biological systems and processes. This includes all of our food, many medicines and industrial products, as well as the air we breathe.

Examples of the positive and negative impact of insects on man are given elsewhere on this website. But without insects and other invertebrates, human life on this planet would be impossible. The enormous diversity of life is of crucial value, providing resilience to organisms and ecosystems.

Increasingly, governments are beginning to understand the critical importance of biodiversity, especially since the formulation of Agenda 21, finalised at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. The aim is to ensure sustainable development which takes into account the long term needs of the natural world, and a worldwide acceptance of the importance of maintaining biodiversity.

In order to inform decisions relating to sustainable development and conservation, it is necessary to have a solid foundation and continuing flow of information on biodiversity.

These developments have spawned numerous organisations whose aim is to monitor biodiversity. In the UK, for example, we have the National Biodiversity Network, which ultimately aims to provide a national computerised repository for biodiversity information.

Next: Biodiversity information: where will it all come from?