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What is Biodiversity?

“Biodiversity is the greatest treasure we have... Its diminishment is to be prevented at all cost.”

Thomas Eisner, ecologist University of Cornell

To Conserve Biodiversity, we strive to maintain native species in abundance and distributions to ensure their continued existence.

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Brown Cube Rot

Biodiversity, or biological diversity, is the variety of life in a region on earth, including all the species, the genetic variation contained within species, and the variation in natural communities and ecosystems in which species occur.

Genetic diversity is the variety of genes within a population of a single species, and the variety of genes found within different populations of the same species. Adaptations to local environmental conditions result in genetic differences among populations of the same species, which affects their physical characteristics, their resilience to stress, and adaptability to changing conditions.

Species diversity is the variety of species within an area. For example, a wetland contains a different set of plant and animal species than a tolerant hardwood forest. Some species are abundant and thriving; others are declining in number and may face threat of extinction. It's almost impossible to count the number species on earth, so scientists use techniques to estimate the numbers. Approximately 1.75 million species have been officially classified, and new species are being discovered by scientists and naturalists on a daily basis. According to the federal government's Canadian Biodiversity Information Network, there are a minimum of 71,000 species of plants and animals in Canada. The actual number of species is likely much higher.

Community diversity refers to the variety of biological communities. A biological community is a distinct collection of the living members of an ecosystem, including populations of plants, animals, bacteria, fungi, and viruses naturally associated with each other.

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Common Loon. Photo: Suzanne Gibeault

Ecosystem diversity refers to the variety of communities of living organisms and their physical environments in a region. An ecosystem is a community of interdependent organisms along with the inorganic components of their environment, including air, water, and minerals in the soil. Ecosystems are interrelated collections of living and non-living components organized in self-regulating units.  An ecosystem has boundaries and can be distinguished from its surroundings (such as a wetland or forest). The variety of species in an ecosystem is a result of its three main attributes: composition, structure, and function. Composition refers to the species (such as the types of trees in a forest); structure refers to the physical patterns of life forms (such as the vertical layers in the understory and canopy of a forest). The living and non-living components of an ecosystem interact in complex exchanges of energy, nutrients and waste. The characteristic exchanges within an ecosystem are called ecosystem functions and include energy and nutrient exchanges, decomposition and biomass production.