What is biodiversity?
The diversity of life on earth is called biological diversity, or in short biodiversity.
This term encompasses the total variation found within and among all living organisms (all species) together with the ecological systems they form part of (different habitats). Some organisations are referring to biodiversity as the "web of life".
Many definitions of biodiversity have been put forward. The one that is widely recognised is that considered in the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. Biodiversity is here defined as: the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, 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 is described in terms of three levels of biological organisation:
Genetic Diversity - the heritable variation of genetic characteristics observed within and among species and their populations; the basic component is the gene (the functional unit of heredity), which is made up of DNA;
Species Diversity - the number and variety of species in a given area;
Ecological Diversity - the diversity of ecosystems, made up of complex communities (groupings of interacting species), their non-living component, and including processes and interactions occurring within and between such systems.
Biodiversity should be considered at all levels, since pressure at one level will impact on the other levels of biological organisation.
Why is biodiversity important?
Biodiversity is a finite resource that has economic, cultural, scientific, educational and intrinsic values.
Besides this, biodiversity is necessary for human well-being in terms of ecosystem services that stem from the complex interaction between living organisms and habitats. Such services contribute to the quality of life through the provision of goods such as food, water and fuel, as well as other forms of raw material that are used in the manufacture of clothes and production of medicines.
Biodiversity is naturally dynamic, that is, it is in a constant state of change. Regrettably, over the past decades, biodiversity has also been, and is still, experiencing drastic unprecedented change at the hands of humans and associated drivers of biodiversity change, bringing about the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystems. This issue is widely recognised, and the urgent need for action to conserve biodiversity, and to use its components in a sustainable manner, is crucial in view of the important role of biodiversity.
Malta’s authorities have implemented various measures throughout the years with the aim to prevent and mitigate negative impacts on biodiversity. For instance, major progress has been made in enacting a comprehensive legal framework and in establishing an ecological network of protected areas, with the aim of safeguarding biodiversity.
Links for further information
Countdown 2010 - Saving Biodiversity
DG Environment - Biodiversity
GreenFacts - Facts on Health and the Environment
52 Tips for Biodiversity
DG Environment - Audiovisual Material