The Azimuth Project



Biodiversity is the degree of variation of life forms within a given ecosystem, biome, or an entire planet. Biodiversity is one measure of the health of ecosystems. The study of biodiversity is mainly covered by the closely related scientific fields of taxonomy and systematic biology. Biodiversity is also a key contributor to Ecosystem services.

Rapid environmental changes typically cause extinctions, which reduce biodiversity, at least in the short term. Extinction is an integral part of the history of life on Earth: 99.9% of species that have existed on Earth are now extinct. Nonetheless, the fossil record shows an overall growth in biodiversity. This growth is far from steady, however: the biodiversity took a dramatic plunge during five mass extinction events.

The period since the emergence of humans has displayed an ongoing reduction in biodiversity. Named the Holocene extinction, the reduction is caused primarily by human impacts, particularly the destruction of plant and animal habitat. In addition, human practices such as agriculture have caused a loss of genetic diversity even as the numbers of cultivated plants and animals increase.

Number of species sizes making up various phyla

Estaimates of the number of species making up various phyla (type of creature) is shown below (where the “still to be discovered” number is estimated from the current discovery rate).

As can be seen there is believed to be a huge number of insect species on the earth. A key question is the extent to which this diversity is required for all the “processes” necessary for a functioning biosphere.

Information from the wikipedia page.

Convention on Biodiversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity or CBD, known informally as the Biodiversity Convention, is an international legally binding treaty. It has three main goals:

  1. conservation of biodiversity,

  2. sustainable use of its components, and

  3. fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources.

In other words, its objective is to develop national strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. It is often seen as the key document regarding sustainable development.

The CBD was opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro on 5 June 1992 and entered into force on 29 December 1993. Almost all countries in the world except Andorra, the Holy See and the United States have ratified this Convention. The US has signed, but not ratified it.

Various countries have have established National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans to implement the CBD.

In January 2000, the parties of the CBD adopted the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety?, also known as the Biosafety Protocol. This seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology.

In April 2002, the parties of the CBD adopted the recommendations of the Gran Canaria Declaration?. This called for a Global Plant Conservation Strategy, and urged a sixteen point plan aiming to slow the rate of plant extinctions around the world by 2010.

The following links provide detailed information regarding the CBD and how it operates:

Reports and assessments

We should first include lots of reports and assessments, then summaries of these, and eventually comparisons of these, highlighting areas of agreement and disagreement:

Natural systems that support economies, lives and livelihoods across the planet are at risk of rapid degradation and collapse, unless there is swift, radical and creative action to conserve and sustainably use the variety of life on Earth

  • Projections of the impact of global change on biodiversity show continuing and often accelerating species extinctions, loss of natural habitat, and changes in the distribution and abundance of species, species groups and biomes over the 21st century.
  • There is a high risk of dramatic biodiversity loss and accompanying degradation of a broad range of ecosystem services if the Earth system is pushed beyond certain thresholds or tipping points.
  • Earlier assessments have underestimated the potential severity of biodiversity loss based on plausible scenarios, because the impacts of passing tipping points or thresholds of ecosystem change have not previously been taken into account.
  • There are greater opportunities than identified in earlier assessments to address the biodiversity crisis while contributing to other social objectives; for example, by reducing the scale of climate change without large-scale deployment of biofuels and accompanying loss of natural habitats.
  • Biodiversity and ecosystem changes could be prevented, significantly reduced or even reversed if strong action is applied urgently, comprehensively and appropriately, at international, national and local levels

Action plans


The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity or TEEB is an international initiative to draw attention to the global economic benefits of biodiversity, to highlight the growing costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, and to draw together expertise from the fields of science, economics and policy to enable practical actions moving forward:

They have written this report:

  • Pushpam Kumar, editor, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: Ecological and Economic Foundations, Earthscan, London, 2010. Drafts freely available online.

Further references

In 2002, world leaders committed, through the Convention on Biological Diversity, to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. We compiled 31 indicators to report on progress toward this target. Most indicators of the state of biodiversity (covering species’

population trends, extinction risk, habitat extent and condition, and community composition) showed declines, with no significant recent reductions in rate, whereas indicators of pressures on biodiversity (including resource consumption, invasive alien species, nitrogen pollution, overexploitation, and climate change impacts) showed increases. Despite some local successes and increasing responses (including extent and biodiversity coverage of protected areas, sustainable forest management, policy responses to invasive alien species, and biodiversity-related aid), the rate of biodiversity loss does not appear to be slowing.

  • E. O. Wilson, The Diversity of Life, W. W. Norton and Company, New York, 1999.

  • Colin Tudge, The Variety of Life, Oxford U. Press, Oxford, 2002. Google Books.

  • PLoS site on biodiversity

  • United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), World Atlas of Biodiversity: Earth’s Living Resources for the 21st Century, University of California Press, 2002.

  • United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Wiki,

Consequences of biodiversity

It is interesting to ask what consequences greater or lesser biodiversity has for an ecosystem. Here are some books on that:

  • Robert May, Stability and Complexity in Model Ecosystems, 1973.

  • Diversity and Stability in Ecological Systems, Brookhaven Report, 1969.

  • The Functional Consequences of Biodiversity, 2001.

  • Ives and Carpenter, Stability and diversity of ecosystems.

Azimuth Project pages

Biodiversity is a ‘category’ on the Azimuth Project. For all the pages in this category, go here. Here are some of the best:

category: biodiversity