Encyclopedia of Biodiversity (Second Edition) - Definition of Biodiversity

Elsevier, Encyclopedia of Biodiversity (Second Edition), 2013, Pages 399-410
Ian R. Swingland

This book chapter addresses goals 13, 14, 15 and 17 by discussing the definition of biodiversity that is both scientifically sensible and universally applicable; this is imperative to help guide the design of policy and programs for the future, as well as to make critical decisions in the present.


Biodiversity, short for biological diversity, refers to the variety of life on Earth, encompassing the wealth of species, ecosystems, and genetic diversity within and among species. Achieving the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) heavily depends on preserving and maintaining biodiversity. This article provides a comprehensive analysis of biodiversity, its importance, challenges, and the role it plays in SDG Resources.

The Definition of Biodiversity

Biodiversity, as defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), is "the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems." In simpler terms, biodiversity refers to the variety of life forms and ecological systems found on Earth. There are three main components to biodiversity:

Genetic Diversity, Species Diversity, and Ecosystem Diversity

Genetic Diversity

Genetic diversity refers to the variation of genes within a species or population. This genetic variability is vital for a species' ability to adapt to changing environments and allows for the continuation of life on Earth. Genetic diversity is essential for the preservation of evolutionary potential and provides a buffer against environmental fluctuations.

Species Diversity

Species diversity is the variety of species within a particular region, habitat, or ecosystem. It includes the number of species present (species richness) and the distribution of individuals among those species (species evenness). Species diversity is crucial for ecosystem stability and functionality, as each species plays a unique role in the ecosystem.

Ecosystem Diversity

Ecosystem diversity refers to the variety of ecosystems found in a particular area, region, or the entire planet. This includes the variety of habitats, communities, and ecological processes that occur within these ecosystems. Ecosystem diversity is crucial for the overall health of the planet and the services ecosystems provide, such as water purification, climate regulation, and nutrient cycling.

The Importance of Biodiversity

Biodiversity is of critical importance to human well-being, as it underpins many ecosystem services that societies rely on, including food production, water purification, and climate regulation. The key benefits of biodiversity are:

Supporting ecosystem services, Providing resources for human livelihoods, Enhancing cultural and recreational values, and Ensuring ecosystem resilience

Biodiversity and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The SDGs are a collection of 17 global goals adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. Biodiversity plays a central role in achieving these goals, as it underpins many of the essential ecosystem services necessary for human well-being and sustainable development. Key connections between biodiversity and the SDGs include:

SDG 2: Zero Hunger,  SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, SDG 13: Climate Action, SDG 14: Life Below Water, and SDG 15: Life on Land 

Biodiversity Challenges

Biodiversity faces various challenges, primarily driven by human activities. These challenges include:

Habitat Loss and Fragmentation, Climate Change, Overexploitation of Resources, Invasive Species, and Pollution

Conservation Strategies for Biodiversity

To address these challenges and protect biodiversity, various conservation strategies have been developed. These strategies include:

Protected Areas, Habitat Restoration, Wildlife Corridors, Sustainable Resource Management, and Community-based Conservation

Biodiversity and Climate Change Mitigation

Biodiversity is also an essential factor in climate change mitigation, as healthy ecosystems can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance carbon sequestration. Examples of biodiversity's role in climate change mitigation include:

Forest Conservation, Wetland Restoration, Agroforestry, and Ocean Conservation

International Cooperation and Policy Frameworks

International cooperation and policy frameworks are vital to addressing biodiversity challenges and promoting its conservation. Key international agreements and initiatives include:

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), and The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

Biodiversity is a crucial component of life on Earth, providing essential ecosystem services that support human well-being and sustainable development. The conservation and enhancement of biodiversity are vital to achieving the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. Addressing the numerous challenges facing biodiversity requires global cooperation, policy frameworks, and innovative conservation strategies. By understanding and promoting the importance of biodiversity, we can work together to ensure a sustainable future for all.