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What is biodiversity?
Biodiversity is all the different kinds of life on Earth and how they work together. It’s the variety of animals, plants, fungi, and bacteria that make up our natural world. Each of these species and organisms function in ecosystems, like an intricate web, to maintain balance and support life. Ultimately it’s what makes Earth, Earth.
Biodiversity, which occurs in all environments on Earth - on land, in rivers and lakes, and in the seas and oceans - is recognised at 3 levels:
- Genetic diversity - the variety of genetic information contained in individual organisms. At this level species may vary in their tolerance of heat or cold, or resistance to diseases
- Species diversity - the variety of species. At this level, we find the basic types of organisms that most people are familiar with, including wild and domesticated species of plants and animals and wild and laboratory-cultured species of microorganism
- Ecosystem diversity - the variety of habitats, ecological communities and ecological processes. At the ecosystem level, we can identify aggregations of species within different environmental settings that constitute broad habitat types, ecological communities and ecosystems such as grasslands, woodlands, rivers and estuaries
How does biodiversity impact me?
Biodiversity is essential for our everyday lives.
Our ecosystems, including the variety of plants and animals within them, are vital for the health of the planet and for humanity to thrive. Think about the food you eat, the air you breathe and the materials that might be used to build homes (such as timber).
We may take these things for granted, but they’re only possible with good biodiversity. The food we eat is grown in soil that only exists because of other species, and it’s pollinated by them too. Healthy ecosystems ensure that our water supplies are clean. The carbon we produce is absorbed by trees and the ocean. The waste we throw away is decomposed by microbes and invertebrates, ready to begin the cycle all over again.
We also need biodiversity to enjoy our natural sources of beauty, including our national parks, wetlands and waterways, oceans and reefs and the plants and animals that inhabit them. Without biodiversity functioning in unison these ecosystems will suffer and risk collapse.
Why is it important to conserve biodiversity?
Conserving biodiversity is essential for preserving life as we know it. No matter how technologically advanced we are, humans rely food, fibre, materials and energy produced by nature.
From parklands to oceans and reefs, wetlands and waterways, our natural spaces are intrinsic to our cultural identity as South Australians – healthy ecosystems are central to who we are. Spending time in nature is also vital to our wellbeing and can even benefit our physical health.
Biodiversity maintains these natural areas, providing spaces for physical activity, opportunities for restoration and relaxation, and for socialising with friends and family.
Australia is recognised as having the highest mammal extinction rate in the world. As of 2019, more than 1,100 of South Australia’s native plant and animal species are threatened with extinction.
The major causes of biodiversity loss are human-led activities, including:
- loss, degradation and fragmentation of habitat
- unsustainable use of natural resources and land use practices
- inappropriate fire regimes
- changes to aquatic environments and water flows
- the spread of invasive species
- climate change and more extreme climatic events.
Lost biodiversity can never be fully recovered, but through our conservation efforts and management programs we can help species to adapt and survive. There are already many excellent examples of what needs to be done to firstly halt, and then reverse, the rates of species and ecological community decline.