Conservation Biology and Biodiversity


Human population growth and the corresponding increase in human consumption rate are leading factors contributing to biodiversity degradation and loss worldwide. Conservation biology integrates diverse disciplines within the natural and social sciences, with the goal of preserving the world's biodiversity, or variety of life. This chapter defines biodiversity and different metrics of diversity, and summarises how biodiversity is distributed, emphasising important patterns both across space and taxonomic groups. Next it describes the major threats to global biodiversity. It examines how people assign values to biodiversity, with a focus on ecosystem services. Finally, it highlights future challenges of conservation biology to protect biodiversity as well as human well‐being. Making conservation more relevant to policy makers, and people in general, requires integrated research to understand the provision of ecosystem services, their relationship to biodiversity and the tradeoffs of resource use decisions.

Key Concepts:

  • Conservation biology is an interdisciplinary endeavour that aims to balance the natural resource uses of a growing human population while sustaining a functioning and diverse biosphere for future generations.

  • Biodiversity is a hierarchical concept that includes the diversity of alleles, genes, individuals, populations, species, communities and ecosystems.

  • Each level of biodiversity serves an important function, and human activities can affect biodiversity at any level of organisation.

  • Biodiversity is unevenly distributed, both across spatial and temporal gradients and across taxa.

  • Human population growth and the corresponding increase in human consumption rate are impacting land cover, biogeochemical cycling, water quality and availability, and other major features of the world that is contributing to biodiversity degradation and loss.

  • Biodiversity has both intrinsic value and utilitarian value; the latter is derived from the ecosystem services, or the essential goods and services that ecosystems provide to humanity, including food, medicine, building materials, clean water and flood control.

  • Quantifying ecosystem services can make conservation more relevant to policy makers and people in general, and research is needed to understand the provision of ecosystem services, their relationship to biodiversity, and the tradeoffs of resource use decisions.

Keywords: biodiversity; conservation; ecosystem services; habitat; extinction

Figure 1.

Relationship between species richness and latitude for butterflies in the United States and Canada. ( Data from Ricketts et al., .)

Figure 2.

Maps of the nine global biodiversity conservation priority templates: CE, crisis ecoregions; BH, biodiversity hot spots; EBA, endemic bird areas; CPD, centres of plant diversity; MC, megadiversity countries; G200, global 200 ecoregions; HBWA, high‐biodiversity wilderness areas; FF, frontier forests; and LW, last of the wild. ( From Brooks et al., , with permission from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.)

Figure 3.

The distribution of diversity among groups of eukaryotic organisms (from MEA, ). (From Figure 4.9 in Ecological Ecosystems and Human Well‐Being: Current State and Trends by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Copyright © 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Reproduced by permission of Island Press, Washington, DC.)

Figure 4.

Habitat conversion of the world's terrestrial biomes. ( Reproduced with permission from Hoekstra et al., .)

Figure 5.

Biodiversity conservation and the economic value of ecosystem services under two development strategies: unrestricted versus with conservation restrictions. If there is no economic market for carbon sequestration then shifting from development to conservation creates gains in biodiversity protected but with economic losses (left pair of points). In contrast, both biodiversity and economic benefits increase if an economic market exists for carbon sequestration when development includes conservation restrictions (right markers). ( Modified from Nelson et al., , with permission from the Ecological Society of America.)



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Pennington, Derric N, and Ricketts, Taylor(Dec 2011) Conservation Biology and Biodiversity. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003256.pub2]