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How To Define Biodiversity

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How to define biodiversity changes with who is doing the defining.

Environmentalists might define biodiversity as the total of all plant and animal life (excluding humans) of the planet, and the planet itself – the air, water and land that supports animal and plant life. A scientist might add humans to the animal life considered when trying to define biodiversity.

Governments and businesses often jump through varying hoops while trying to define biodiversity, depending on the audience they are addressing. When they to define it, they are very careful to tailor it to the specific groups of listeners they are addressing, who have varying opinions on the topic. To some groups, biodiversity and anything to do with preserving it is seen as a threat to their livelihood, while other groups regard conservation and anything related to preserving biodiversity as a panacea for all the ills humankind suffers.

In order to accurately define biodiversity, however, there are some specific factors that must be considered, notably:

Genetic diversity, which is the variation of genes within a single species. There are two kinds of genetic diversity: the variations within distinct populations of the same species, and the genetic variation within a population.

Species diversity is the consideration of the varieties of species within a region. While there are many ways to determine this, two of the most popular measures are species “richness”, or the number of species, both plant and animal, that inhabit an area, and the more precise “taxonomic diversity,” which considers the relationships between species as well as their numbers.

Ecosystem diversity is usually considered the most difficult type of diversity to measure since the boundaries between various biological communities are highly fluid.

One example of how to define biodiversity is the criteria that USAid uses as requirements for their programs:

• The program must have an explicit biodiversity objective. Just saying it's to conserve biodiversity is not enough. The objective must be achievable and measurable;
• All activities related to the project must be identified by analysis of threats to biodiversity;
• Monitoring of all indicators for biodiversity conservation is required; and
• On-site programs must have the goal of positively impacting the biodiversity of areas that are biologically significant or threatened.

While the study of all biodiversity's individual factors is fascinating in and of itself, in order to successfully define biodiversity, no one factor should be allowed to overwhelm the consideration of the others. And since there is no one simple, elegant, and workable way to define biodiversity, one of the best ways to comprehend it is to read the varying definitions used by scientists, governments, businesses and environmentalists, in order to get a good overview of the subject.


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