Biodiversity is the variety of life that lives on Earth. Fewer than 2 million species have been named and biologists estimate that as many as 13 million more species may exist, many being micro-organisms such as bacteria and archaea that live in some of the world's most extreme places.
When people think of biodiversity, they may think of rainforests and coral reefs, but there are biodiverse habitats all around us, such as meadows, ponds, and hedgerows. A veteran oak tree may be home to several hundred species of insect, while a wildlife-friendly garden with nectar-rich flowers, vegetable beds, overgrown lawns, ponds and compost bins may be visited by a wide range of animals.
New life can be found in the strangest places. Who would have thought that the hot, acidic waters of Yellowstone would be inhabited by many species of bacteria and archaea new to science. The heat-resistant enzymes of some of these bacteria have proved to be incredibly useful in biotechnology.
However many species may disappear before they are even discovered, mostly as a consequence of habitat loss and degradation. Deforestation, the ploughing up of grassland, the drainage of wetlands and the polluting of the oceans are all causing a loss of biodiversity. And then there is global warming. Extinction rates are already at record highs and now it is estimated that every 1 degree Centigrade rise in the average global temperature will increase the rate of extinction by 10 per cent.
The loss of an unknown insect or bacterium may not seem very important, but every organism has a role to play in its community and there is a knock-on effect on other species.For example, the insect may be the pollinator of a particular flower, or the food source for another animal. Biodiversity is important to our daily lives - oxygen, food, oil, wood, paper, medicines and much more, so its in all our interests to protect it.
In the UK, the International Year of Biodiversity is being spearheaded by the Natural History Museum via this website: http://www.biodiversityislife.net/. More than 200 UK partners are working with the NHM to run events and promote biodiversity.
Do one thing for biodiversity in 2010
So start the year with a pledge to help biodiversity. There are lots of things you can do - plant a tree, plant butterfly friendly plants in your garden, donate money to a wildlife charity, support your local wildlife trust and much more. For ideas visit http://www.biodiversityislife.net/?q=do-one-thing. What am I doing? The Ecoscene office looks out on a large field with 400 year old oak trees (below). We have visiting barn owls so I am putting up some barn owl nest boxes.