As we continue to develop the relationship between economics and our natural world, we will focus on one concept that is studied regularly in ecology and has become very important in both economics and the sustainability of our planet: biodiversity.
In order to understand the significance of economic principles in the biodiversity of our world, you must first understand what biodiversity describes.
The following overview of biodiversity was adapted from In World Resources Institute, World Conservation Union, and United Nations Environment Programme, “Global Biodiversity Strategy,” 1992:
Biodiversity is the totality of genes, species, and ecosystems in a region. Biodiversity can be divided into three hierarchical categories—genes, species, and ecosystems—that describe quite different aspects of living systems that scientists measure in different ways.
Genetic diversity refers to the variation of genes within species. This covers distinct populations of the same species (such as the thousands of traditional rice varieties in India) or genetic variation within a population (high among Indian rhinos, and very low among cheetahs).
Species diversity refers to the variety of species within a region. Such diversity can be measured in many ways, and scientists have not settled on a single best method. The number of species in a region—its species “richness”—is one often-used measure, but a more precise measurement, “taxonomic diversity,” also considers the relationship of species to each other. For example, an island with two species of birds and one species of lizard has a greater taxonomic diversity than an island with three species of birds but no lizards.
Ecosystem diversity is harder to measure than species or genetic diversity because the “boundaries” of communities—associations of species—and ecosystems are elusive. Nevertheless, as long as a consistent set of criteria is used to define communities and ecosystems, their numbers and distribution can be measured.
For additional resources on biodiversity read the article link What is Biodiversity from the National Foundation for Wildlife and Biodiversity from the National Geographic Society. For an in-depth review of how biodiversity is measured read the article on Getting the Measure of Biodiversity. These resources will help you address the questions in the following Case Assignment.
Also, see the PowerPoint on Measuring Biodiversity by the Canadian Museum of Nature.
From the Background readings above, address the following questions for your case assignment in the form of an essay. Complete a 2-3 page paper using complete sentences for each question and APA formatting for citations. Include any citations used to support your research. For additional expectations, including how to organize your assignment, see the Assignment Expectations below.
- Define biodiversity.
- Why is biodiversity important? What are some of the benefits of biodiversity?
- How is biodiversity measured?
- What is extinction? What is causing it today?
- What is the Endangered Species Act? What is it meant to do? (reflect on the economic consequences of the Act as we will be delving into the topic later on)
- What are some of the most and least diverse species in your local area? Try the interactive map called the “Map of Life” developed by a research team from both Yale University and the University of Colorado Boulder (this tool is still in development). The link can be found here: https://www.mol.org/location/32.045/-471.489/. You can zoom into the map and find your local area (or another area of interest to you). The example map below demonstrates the most diverse species in Tucson, AZ as being birds, whereas palm plants have the least diversity. Describe your chosen area in your essay and copy and paste the chart area showing the most and least diverse species in your area (map of United States does not need to be copied, only the species chart). Were you surprised by the results? Why or why not?
- Insects are the largest and most diverse group of organisms on Earth. Select one insect species from your local area (click on the insect species from the Map of Life to learn more) and describe its importance to humans (medicine, research, agriculture, aesthetics, etc). Include an image of your chosen insect within your essay.
- What can you do as an individual to help slow the loss of biodiversity?