What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity (also called biological diversity) is the variety of all life on Earth, from the tiniest microbe to the giant blue whale. Earth’s biodiversity comprises plants, fungi, animals, and microorganisms. It also includes the genes that code for life.

We can think about the variety of life in different ways. We can zoom out and look at the total biodiversity of Earth: all life on our planet. We can zoom in and explore the biodiversity in our own backyard. We can zoom in even further and examine the biodiversity contained in a teaspoon of garden soil. We can also look at genetic differences between or within species.

There is also diversity in ecosystems: different types of ecosystems with different environmental conditions. For example, rainforest, desert, grassland, wetland, and coral reef are all types of ecosystems.

Some types of ecosystems support a larger number of species than others. Tropical rainforests have high species diversity. (Learn why rainforests have so many kinds of plants and animals.) Deserts have lower species diversity than tropical rainforests.

Although rainforests are home to more species, desert species are not less important than rainforest species. All species have a role to play in the ecosystem in which they live.

Why does biodiversity matter? Besides the fact that all things are beautiful and fascinating in some way, we couldn’t survive without biodiversity. We rely on biodiversity for things we need every day, like the air we breathe, the clean water we drink, the food we eat, and the medicine that keeps us healthy.

May 22 is the International Day for Biological Diversity

The theme for this year (2024) is be part of the plan. Everyone can play a role in helping biodiversity! Start in your own backyard or local park. Observe and appreciate the many species that are your neighbors. Organize a cleanup with friends and family to pick up trash.

There are many ways to nurture biodiversity at home. You can grow native plants. You can build habitat for your local insects. You can take care of the soil.

For more information, visit the UN Environment Program website.

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