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Biodiversity

Intro
The variety of life on Earth, its biological diversity is commonly referred to as biodiversity. The number of species of plants, animals, and microorganisms, the enormous diversity of genes in these species, the different ecosystems on the planet, such as deserts, rainforests and coral reefs are all part of a biologically diverse Earth. Appropriate conservation and sustainable development strategies attempt to recognize this as being integral to any approach. Almost all cultures have in some way or form recognized the importance that nature, and its biological diversity has had upon them and the need to maintain it. Yet, power, greed and politics have affected the precarious balance.
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Why is Biodiversity Important?
Biodiversity has a number of functions on the Earth. These are as follows:
Maintaining balance of the ecosystem: Recycling and storage of nutrients, combating pollution, and stabilizing climate, protecting water resources, forming and protecting soil and maintaining ecobalance.
Provision of biological resources: Provision of medicines and pharmaceuticals, food for the human population and animals, ornamental plants, wood products, breeding stock and diversity of species, ecosystems and genes.
Social benefits: Recreation and tourism, cultural value and education and research.
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Biodiversity Assessment
The Global Biodiversity Assessment completed by 1500 scientists under the auspices of UNEP in 1995 updated what we know, or more correctly how little we know, about global biological diversity at the ecosystem, species and genetic levels (Heywood, 1995). The assessment was uncertain of the total number of species on Earth within an order of magnitude. Of its working figure of 13 million species, only 13% have been scientifically described. Ecological community diversity is also poorly known, as is its relationship to biological diversity, and genetic diversity has been studied for only a small number of species. The effects of human activities on biodiversity have increased so greatly that the rate of species extinctions is rising to hundreds or thousands of times the background level. These losses are driven by increasing demands on species and their habitats, and by the failure of current market systems to value biodiversity adequately. The Assessment calls for urgent action to reverse these trends (Heywood, 1996).
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Biodiversity hotspots are a method to identify those regions of the world where attention is needed to address biodiversity loss and to guide investments in conservation. The idea was first developed by Norman Myers in 1988 to identify tropical forest ‘hotspots’ characterized both by exceptional levels of plant endemism and serious habitat loss, which he then expanded to a more global scope. Conservation International adopted Myers’ hotspots as its institutional blueprint in 1989, and in 1999, the organization undertook an extensive global review which introduced quantitative thresholds for the designation of biodiversity hotspots. A reworking of the hotspots analysis in 2004 resulted in the system in place today. Currently, 35 biodiversity hotspots have been identified, most of which occur in tropical forests. They represent just 2.3% of Earth’s land surface, but between them they contain around 50% of the world’s endemic plant species and 42% of all terrestrial vertebrates. Overall, Hotspots have lost around 86% of their original habitat and additionally are considered to be significantly threatened by extinctions induced by climate change.
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