Sustainability made simple

The 3 Types of Biodiversity Explained

types of biodiversity
Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Kanenori

Biodiversity is key to our planet’s health and survival. Let’s take a closer look at what that means and the different types of biodiversity that exist.

Biodiversity can be summarized as the variability of all living things as they co-exist in a particular habitat. The word can be broken down into 2 components: Bio, meaning life, and diversity, meaning variation. There are 3 main types of biodiversity in which biodiversity is explored, considered, and studied. Together, these different types of biodiversity work together to create the complexity of life on Earth:

  • genetic diversity
  • species diversity
  • ecosystem diversity

Life within a biosphere or ecosystem can range from animal and plant life to fungi, micro-organisms, and other lifeforms surviving exempt from the human eye.

The current estimate for the number of species living on earth is around 8.7 million, yet this could be grossly underestimated considering how many species are likely still undiscovered. However, there are many threats to biodiversity that are thought to be just as catastrophic as climate change.

We’ll look deeper into the three types of biodiversity so that we can raise our awareness of how life on the planet needs other life to connect with, in order for the world to flourish.

Types of Biodiversity: Genetic

There are three types of biodiversity which work in balance with one another.
There are three types of biodiversity which work in balance with one another. (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Efraimstochter)

Genetic diversity can be described as the variety of genes in any given species, or basically, its gene pool. Here we are referring to the DNA and the diversity of that DNA within the species group. A diverse DNA allows for easier adaptation to changes in the biosphere, or ecosystem, as is occurring all over the world, especially now with the acceleration of climate shifts, and pressure on habitats by human expansion. This variety in DNA may also help when a species is confronted with disease, minimalizing whole species extinction.

Genetic diversity can be suggested by what an animal, plant, or other living organism actually looks like, but is more correctly analyzed via direct DNA assessment. These differences in genetic diversity are what make up the similarities and differences we may see across a species, such as color, patterns, sounds (if applicable), and behavior.

Often the most diverse species are those that have been around for a long time and consequently have been able to evolve within their own species group. Marsupials, for example, have a long lineage and are therefore very diverse, whereas kangaroos, come from a much newer evolutionary background.

We know that many species have been lost to extinction for one reason or another (one only needs to think of the Dodo, or the Tasmanian tiger, hunted to extinction by European settlers in Australia), but we now have the chance to look to those species that are in grave danger and ramp up our conservation efforts.

Species Diversity

Nature needs balance in order to thrive.
Nature needs balance in order to thrive. (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / veronicaannehill)

Another type of biodiversity is at the species level. Species diversity refers to the population of a given species, and the role they play in the surrounding ecosystem. Many ecosystems are made of varied communities of life. As an example, there may be a given number of prey and predators, which result in a balance of kinds. The systems thrive when both populations are in balance.

If predators are depleted, such as what happened with the wolves in Yellowstone Park, prey species numbers can greatly soar, having a knock-on effect on other wildlife, in this case having a negative impact on badgers and plant populations.

The more species diversity, the more there is likely to be more than one predator and prey species. This means that a surge or decline in one can be brought back to balance naturally, as each species finds its place in the shared habitat.

Some regions have a great deal more species diversity than others. Rainforests and coral reefs, for example, are home to more species than say a salt flat or stream. The level of human impact, such as pollution in rivers and seas, will also have an effect on the natural balance of species diversity.

In some areas, species are limited to one ecosystem, such as the bonobos of the Congo or many of the endemic species in Australia.

Types of Biodiversity: Ecosystem

An ecosystem can be tiny, or monumental.
An ecosystem can be tiny, or monumental. (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / sandid)

Ecosystem diversity can be thought of as the variety of ecosystems (or habitats) in any given geographic place. Ecosystems are entire communities of organisms, from the smallest to the largest. The ecosystem functions as a whole, with each species playing its particular part. Ecosystems vary in size and can range from what’s found under a rock or in a pond or lake, to a more broad scale such as what’s found in a woodland, a forest, coral reef, tundra, or desert.

This type of biodiversity takes into account differences in biological and non-biological agents of biodiversity, which may include factors such as climate change.

Locations which have a high level of ecosystem diversity are likely to thrive better than those with smaller differences, and these will be the areas most protected by dramatic environmental shifts, disease, and pollution, for example.

One example of changes that can affect ecosystem diversity is the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Australia. It’s home to over 9,000 marine species, making it possibly one of the most diverse habitats on the planet. However, the area is home to a large number of reef fish, and of the numerous roles performed by reef fish, approximately 40 percent are undertaken by a single species. If the reef fish were to disappear, there are no other species (until one may adapt) to take over their job. This is also an example of how the types of biodiversity all rely on each other for optimal functioning.

Other Interesting Facts About Biodiversity

We must protect our world and that starts with learning more about the types of biodiversity.
We must protect our world and that starts with learning more about the types of biodiversity. (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / FINTANOBRIEN)

Did you know that countries with very high levels of biodiversity are labeled as megadiverse? The megadiversity label is currently assigned to countries including Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Ecuador, the United States, Philippines, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Peru, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These countries may account for around about 70% of our planet’s total biodiversity.

There are many threats to all types of biodiversity, including habitat loss, climate change, and introduced invasive species.

All types of biodiversity need to be protected, and there are policies and protocols in place to try and reduce habitat degradation and conserve biodiversity, such as an international treaty called the Convention of Biological Diversity. You may have heard of this as COP. This is a treaty between over 190 countries to manage sustainable development and deliver a conservation effort and they meet every 2 years. Some scientists and activists suggest the convention does not do enough to combat the environmental changes upon us.

There is also an Endangered Species Act in place. This is a federal policy for the protection of biodiversity. If you’d like to know more, you can read about the 15 most endangered animals in the US and the 15 most endangered species in the world.

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