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What is biodiversity?

Oh, the beauty of a forest! The pleasure of walking through it,


enjoying the smells of the flowers and the wild; watching the insects
flitting about and listening to the birds chirp - how we all love it and wish
to return to it again and again. It is this biodiversity that we have to
protect and take care of in order to enjoy the joy of it all. But what is
biodiversity?
Biodiversity is the variety and differences among living organisms from all
sources, including terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems and the
ecological complexes of which they are a part. This includes genetic diversity within
and between species and of ecosystems. Thus, in essence, biodiversity represents
all life. India is one of the mega biodiversity centres in the world and has two of the
world's 18 ‘biodiversity hotspots’ located in the Western Ghats and in the Eastern
Himalayas (Myers 1999). The forest cover in these areas is very dense and diverse
and of pristine beauty, and incredible biodiversity.
According to an MoEF Report (1996), the country is estimated to have over
45,000 plant species and 81,000 animal species representing 7% of the world’s flora
and 6.5% of its fauna. The 1999 figures are 49,219 plant species representing
12.5% and 81,251 animal species representing 6.6%.
The sacred groves of India are some of the areas in the country where the
richness of biodiversity has been well preserved. The Thar desert and the Himalayas
are two regions rich in biodiversity in India. There are 89 national parks and 504
wildlife sanctuaries in the country, the Chilika Lake being one of them. This lake is
also an important wetland area. Learn more through map on biodiversity in India.
Over the last century, a great deal of damage has been done to the
biodiversity existing on the earth. Increasing human population, increasing
consumption levels, and decreasing efficiency of use of our resources are some of
the causes that have led to overexploitation and manipulation of ecosystems. Trade
in wildlife, such as rhino horn, has led to the extinction of species. Consequences of
biodiversity loss can be great as any disturbance to one species gives rise to
imbalance in others. In this the exotic species have a role to play.
To prevent such loss, the Government of India is setting up biosphere
reserves in different parts of the country. These are multipurpose protected areas to
preserve the genetic diversity in different ecosystems. Till 1999, ten biosphere
reserves had been set up, namely Nilgiri, Nandadevi, Nakrek, Great Nicobar, Gulf of
Mannar, Manas, Sunderbans, Similipal, and Dibru Saikhowa. A number of NGOs are
being involved in the programme to create awareness. But legal protection is
provided only to national parks and sanctuaries, which cover about 4.5% of India’s
land area.

Definitions
The most straightforward definition is "variation of life at all levels of
biological organization".[3] A second definition holds that biodiversity is a measure of
the relative diversity among organisms present in different ecosystems. "Diversity"
in this definition includes diversity within a species and among species, and
comparative diversity among ecosystems.
A third definition that is often used by ecologists is the "totality of genes,
species, and ecosystems of a region". An advantage of this definition is that it
seems to describe most circumstances and present a unified view of the traditional
three levels at which biodiversity has been identified:
NEED OF BIODIVERSITY

Biological diversity is important because of the way relationships between


species and habitats combine to provide yet more variation in the living
world. Any human activity that diminishes this 'bio - diversity' could therefore
impoverish our own quality of life, reduce the resources available to us and
ultimately jeopardise the survival of our descendants.

➢ We should seek to conserve biodiversity because:


➢ it confers direct benefits as natural processes protect our planet
➢ it provides the raw material of food, clothing and medicines
➢ it enhances our quality of life, by adding variety to our surroundings
➢ it helps shape our culture and inspires our poets, painters, writers and
composers
➢ it is heritage we should not deny to the next generation
➢ it is affected enomously by what we do.

PROJECT SCOPE- Biodiversity in Grain and Graze (BiGG)


Alan House

The erosion of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes is a global phenomenon. Two


approaches have been proposed to deal with this issue – the practise of wildlife-friendly
farming, where critical components of biodiversity and ecological function at a landscape
scale are supported within the agricultural landscape; and intensification of production on
the most productive parts of the landscape so that other land can be “spared” for
conservation. Both approaches have benefits and disbenefits for both production and
conservation.

Our project is designed to test the notion that the gradient of intensification of production,
from grazed native woodlands through pastures based on native grasses to pastures of
exotic species and finally cropped areas, will result in altered communities of plants and
animals in a predictable way.

This project is designed to answer the questions:


• does the introduction of pasture phases in cropping rotations have biodiversity
and ecosystem services benefits?
• does pasture type and management (grazing, length of phase etc) influence biota?
• do pasture phases represent an additional habitat for wildlife that augments farmleve
biodiversity?
• is local landscape context important in determining patterns of richness and diversity?
We are using a functionally important subset of biodiversity (ground active and soil/litter
invertebrates) to investigate these hypotheses. Three mixed farms (Tara, Qld; Bogabilla,
NSW; Warialda, NSW) that represent contrasting environments and pasture/cropping
combinations in the Border Rivers region, were chosen for study. All comprise a mix of:
remnant native woodland; pastures based on native grasslands or of native grasses but
derived from open woodland or clearing; pastures based on exotic grasses; and cropping.
At each farm, replicates of each land use type (remnant woodland, native pastures, sown
pastures) on each farm are being sampled for ground active and canopy (forage height)
invertebrates using pitfall trapping and suction sampling. Vegetation composition and
structure is also recorded. Invertebrates are sorted to Order level, with selected groups
(ants initially, spiders and beetles subsequently) to species where possible.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BIODIVERSITY

At the ecosystem level, biodiversity provides the conditions and drives the
processes that sustain the global economy – and our very survival as a
species. The benefits and services provided by ecosystems include:
>> Generation of soils and maintenance of soil quality
The activities of microbial and animal species – including bacteria, algae,
fungi, mites, millipedes and worms – condition soils, break down organic
matter, and release essential nutrients to plants. These processes play a key
role in the cycling of such crucial elements as nitrogen, carbon and
phosphorous between the living and non-living parts of the biosphere.

>> Maintenance of air quality


Plant species purify the air and regulate the composition of the atmosphere,
recycling vital oxygen and filtering harmful particles resulting from industrial
activities.

>> Maintenance of water quality


Wetland ecosystems (swamps, marshes, etc.) absorb and recycle essential
nutrients, treat sewage, and cleanse wastes. In estuaries, molluscs remove
nutrients from the water, helping to prevent nutrient over-enrichment and its
attendant problems, such as eutrophication arising from fertilizer run-off.
Trees and forest soils purify water as it flows through forest ecosystems. In
preventing soils from being washed away, forests also prevent the harmful
siltation of rivers and reservoirs that may arise from erosion and landslides.
>> Pest control
Around 99 per cent of potential crop pests are controlled by a variety of
other organisms, including insects, birds and fungi. These natural pesticides
are in many ways superior to their artificial equivalents, since pests can often
develop resistance to chemical controls.

>> Detoxification and decomposition of wastes


Some 130 billion metric tons of organic waste is processed every year by
earth’s decomposing organisms. Many industrial wastes, including
detergents, oils, acids and paper, are also detoxified and decomposed by the
activities of living things. In soils, the end product of these processes – a
range of simple inorganic chemicals – is returned to plants as nutrients.
Higher (vascular) plants can themselves serve to remove harmful substances
from groundwater.

>> Pollination and crop production


Many flowering plants rely on the activities of various animal species – bees,
butterflies, bats, birds, etc. – to help them reproduce through the
transportation of pollen. More than one-third of humanity’s food crops
depend on this process of natural pollination. Many animal species have
evolved to perform an additional function in plant reproduction through the
dispersal of seeds.

>> Climate stabilization


Plant tissues and other organic materials within land and ocean ecosystems
act as repositories of carbon, helping to slow the build-up of atmospheric
carbon dioxide, and thus contributing to climate stabilization. Ecosystems
also exert direct influences on regional and local weather patterns. Moisture
released into the atmosphere by rainforests, for example, causes regular
rainstorms, limiting water loss from the region and helping to control the
surface temperature. In cold climates, meanwhile, forests act as insulators
and as windbreaks, helping to mitigate the impacts of freezing temperatures.

>> Prevention and mitigation of natural disasters


Forests and grasslands protect landscapes against erosion, nutrient loss, and
landslides through the binding action of roots. Ecosystems bordering
regularly flooding rivers (floodplain forests and wetlands) help to absorb
excess water and thus reduce the damage caused by floods. Certain coastal
ecosystems (salt marshes, mangrove forests, etc.) prevent the erosion of
coastlines.
OBJECT

ADDRESSING the ongoing loss of biodiversity and accelerating biodiversity


surveys requires improvements in taxonomic information management,
especially for the most numerous group - insects. Currently there are only
scattered entomological biodiversity databases available. Internet, and its
World Wide Web (WWW) protocol for distributed multimedia
hyperdocuments, provide an efficient meta-model of how information on
biological webs and taxonomies can be organised. Moreover, object-oriented
modelling provides the tools for modelling complex biological domains such
as taxonomy and biological field data realistically. We demonstrate a
combination of object-oriented databases and WWW front-ends for managing
taxonomic biodiversity information. One WWW page for each taxon, which is
dynamically connected to the taxonomic hierarchy, allows users to manage
taxonomic information efficiently. The pages and their summaries are
created on demand out of the contents of the database. We argue that a new
generation of WWW servers with special object-oriented modelling
capabilities should be created for managing taxonomic information globally
and on a distributed basis.
The total number of species on Earth has been estimated to be in the
magnitude of 10^7 [1], of which 1.7 million is known. Loss of this biological
diversity currently runs at 10^3 times of its natural pace [2], eradicating
10^4 species per year. Hence, over the next 30 years, 10^6 species are
bound to disappear even before they become known. Currently, 10^4 new
species are discovered annually; a rate which has not changed during the
past 15 years [1] despite an overall increase in scientific publishing. Insects
comprise more than a half of all the species, and also the majority of the
loss. There is obviously an urgent need to accelerate biodiversity surveys,
especially in the area of tropical entomology.
Molecular biology has enjoyed such services through GenBank [3] and EMBL
Data Library [4] already since the early 1980's. Bringing GenBank databases
to a distributed structure and public access reduced the backlog of data
entries from 2 years to a few days [5], [6]. Use of on-line databases is now
the norm in molecular biology. Taxonomic databases are also succeeding for
plants. International Organization for Plant Information (IOPI) is constructing
a world plant check-list and database [7]. Its Taxonomic Databases Working
Group has prepared a set of standards by which the different IOPI sites
operate. Another case in point is the Biodiversity Information Network
/Agenda 21 (BIN21) which is a special interest network [8] in the Internet
that aims at organising biodiversity information into a network of distributed,
public domain databases [9]. If BIN21 succeeds, it will bring the rest of
bioinformatics to the level of molecular genetics in information management.
However, there are no universally accepted data models nor publicly
available database applications, which has caused delays in this critical area
and incurred further costs to many institutions. In the following, we present
the results of our experiments aiming at an architecture and an application
suite for taxonomic biodiversity management in the Internet.