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What is biodiversity?

Photo: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Gilles Murray)
Nelumbo nucifera 'Alba Plena'.

The term “biodiversity” became part of everyday language following the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro. It encompasses variation within species (genetic diversity), diversity of species in a given region (species diversity) and variation at the level of ecosystems (ecosystem diversity). Biodiversity underpins the functioning of ecosystems on which we depend for provisioning services (food, water, fuel, fibres), essential supporting and regulating services (oxygen production, climate regulation, soil nutrient cycling, health protection, pollination, etc.), and cultural services (well-being derived from nature, spiritual experiences, etc.).

The importance of biodiversity

Sustainable use of the services provided by biodiversity and ecosystems is not just a matter of preserving particular species or habitats representative of ecosystems, although these actions are crucial. Environmental conservation and restoration are essential to the preservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and must become critical considerations in all aspects of the economy.

Taking the example of provisioning services, we can easily grasp the importance of biodiversity if we consider the important role in medicine of therapeutic products directly extracted from plants or derived from natural products. Nature represents a gigantic gene bank that, in the era of biotechnology, can be used to maintain and improve our quality of life.

Plant breeders needing useful agronomic traits for new crop varieties (resistance to pests, diseases or environmental stresses, etc.) often look for them among the wild species. Nature may also provide other solutions, such as new biopesticides, biofertilizers, etc.

Biodiversity preservation issues

Preserving biodiversity means safeguarding our capacity to discover and develop new drugs, foods and industrial products. It also means ensuring the stability of our ecosystems and thus the sustainability of their services which are essential to our health and well-being. This has led many countries to adopt measures to protect their fauna and flora and maintain the integrity of the biosphere. Numerous researchers attempt to identify the causes of species extinctions while others work on discovering, describing and conserving new species.


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These texts have been provided by the Université de Montréal Biodiversity Centre.

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