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What is biodiversity

Biodiversity is the name we use to encompass all species of flora and fauna, both wild and domesticated, the genetic differences between individuals of the same species, the habitats in which they live, and how they interact with each other, and with their physical environment. In essence, if something is alive, it is part of biodiversity, and this includes people.

Biodiversity can be broken down and discussed at three separate levels as follows:

  • Genetic diversity, which refers to the unique DNA which an individual plant or animal possesses, and which is essential for the maintenance of healthy, functioning populations of different species.
  • Species diversity, which is simply the variety of all plants, animals, fungi, algae, and other living organisms, both wild and domesticated. Over 31,000 species are found in Ireland, while species new to Ireland, and often new to science, continue to be recorded here.
  • Ecosystems diversity, which are the relationships between different species, their habitats and their local, non-living environment (geology, hydrology, micro-climate).

Biodiversity is not a standalone entity, it's linked to built heritage (think of barn owls, house martins or wall rue), cultural heritage (think of Fionn MacCumhaill and the salmon of knowledge or fairy hawthorn trees), and other environmental factors (lichens are used to measure air quality while invertebrates measure water quality).

The health of our environment is dependent on the health of our biodiversity, as each element is dependent upon, or responsible for another element. For example, it is alleged that Einstein predicted that if the humble bumblebee became extinct, then the human race would follow in four short years, given that almost 90% of the world's vegetation requires pollination, herbivores require vegetation, carnivores require herbivores, and so on.

Useful publications

Page last reviewed: 22/05/18

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