What is Biodiversity?

This module provides an introduction to biodiversity -- the variety of life on Earth, from genes to ecosystems, and the ecological and evolutionary processes that sustain it. Biodiversity is classified at many levels, from genetic diversity to species diversity to ecosystem diversity. Biodiversity is also mapped over ‘ecoregions,’ categorized based on climate, vegetation, and altitude. In relation, the study of biogeography looks at the distribution of organisms in space, and through time.

View this module in other languages:
What is Biodiversity? (Ukrainian)
¿Qué es la Biodiversidad? (Spanish)
Qu'est ce que la Biodiversité? (French)

Featured in: Biodiversity Basics

See also:
What Is Biodiversity? Analyzing Data to Compare and Conserve Spider Communities
Why is Biodiversity Important?
What is an Ecosystem? Building a Living Web

Theme: Understanding Biodiversity

Language: English

Region: Global

Keywords: biodiversity, data analysis, genetics, ecology

Components: 11

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learn

Synthesis: What is Biodiversity?

Author: I. Harrison, M.F. Laverty, E. Sterling

   

The module reviews the different levels of biodiversity, or the biodiversity hierarchy including: genetic and phenotypic diversity; population diversity; species diversity; community diversity; ecosystem diversity; landscape diversity; and historical and ecological biogeographic diversity. Brief definitions of populations, species, communities, and ecosystems are provided, with some introductory discussion of different types of species concepts. The module defines the terms species richness and species evenness as methods for measuring species diversity, and it discusses the use of species richness as a surrogate for describing overall global biodiversity. The module reviews the distribution of biodiversity in space, explaining the definitions of alpha, beta and gamma diversity for measuring diversity within and between ecosystems. The environmental factors that affect these patterns of spatial diversity are briefly discussed. The module also includes a brief review of the different ways by which assessments of spatial diversity are used for conservation planning and management (e.g., based on ecoregions, or biodiversity hotspots and coldspots). The module concludes with a brief discussion of diversity over geological time.


explore

Recommended Resource: Seeking Spiders—Biodiversity on a Different Scale

Source: AMNH Science Bulletins, July 2012


Miniscule forms of life are often overlooked in conservation efforts because they have yet to be described in detail. Follow the American Museum of Natural History’s Dr. Norman Platnick and his team into the Ecuadorian forest as they collect and identify scores of tiny goblin spiders, revealing how little we know about the breadth of global biodiversity.

Recommended Resource: Surveying Gorongosa's Biodiversity

Source: HHMI BioInteractive

This video introduces students to how scientists survey biodiversity using a variety of methods for different types of species. Check out HHMI BioInteractive for an accompanying student worksheet on the topic.


practice

Exercise: What is Biodiversity? - A Comparison of Spider Communities

Author: J.P. Gibbs, I. Harrison, J. Griffiths

   

In this exercise, students first classify to morphospecies a sample of spiders for five forest patches, and then construct indices of richness, diversity, endemism, and community similarity for all five sites. This information is then used to to formulate conservation priorities for the five sites.

Exercise: What Is Biodiversity? - Global Biodiversity Hotspots Poster Assignment

Author: N. Bynum, M.L. Miranda

   

For this exercise, students are asked to work in groups to make an informative poster on a global biodiversity hotspot. Students are expected to provide specific information on the hotspot, such as basic geographical and socioeconomic characteristics, a description of the major ecosystems and threats faced, a description of current conservation programs, a critical analysis of the region, and a possible conservation plan to take place over the next 10 years. Posters can be presented at a public session at the end of the Exercise, with students representing advocates for each of the hotspots covered.

Exercise: Data Analysis: What is Biodiversity? A Comparison of Spider Communities

Author: J.P. Gibbs, I. Harrison, J. Griffiths
Adapted by: A. Bravo, A. Porzecanski

   

This exercise was adapted from the original version (see above) to further develop data analysis skills. Specifically, this exercise asks students to 1) create an appropriate and informative graph; 2) interpret trends and patterns in the graph; 3) understand and correctly solve equations; and 4) make well-reasoned conclusions from data. A rubric is provided to facilitate assessment of these skills. NOTE: This version does not include the phylogenetic component of the original exercise.


teach

Presentation: What is Biodiversity?

Author: I. Harrison, N. Bynum, G. Cullman, J.P. Gibbs, M.F. Laverty, A. Porzecanski, E. Sterling

Teaching Notes: What is Biodiversity?

Author: I. Harrison, N. Bynum, G. Cullman, J.P. Gibbs, M.F. Laverty, A. Porzecanski, E. Sterling

Solutions: What is Biodiversity? - A Comparison of Spider Communities

Author: J.P. Gibbs, I. Harrison, J. Griffiths

Solutions: What is Biodiversity? - Global Biodiversity Hotspots Poster Assignment

Author: N. Bynum, M.L. Miranda

Solutions: Data Analysis: What is Biodiversity? A Comparison of Spider Communities

Author: J.P. Gibbs, I. Harrison, J. Griffiths
Adapted by: A. Bravo, A. Porzecanski

This exercise was adapted from the original version (see above) to further develop data analysis skills. Specifically, this exercise asks students to 1) create an appropriate and informative graph; 2) interpret trends and patterns in the graph; 3) understand and correctly solve equations; and 4) make well-reasoned conclusions from data. A rubric is provided to facilitate assessment of these skills. NOTE: This version does not include the phylogenetic component of the original exercise.


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