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The Canadian Biodiversity Web Site

What is biodiversity? | Why a web site on biodiversity?


What is biodiversity?

Biological diversity, or biodiversity, is a term that is becoming more and more heard, yet few people really know what it is. There are many definitions for it (see the first chapter of Gaston (1996) for a long list), but there are two that will be given here. The first is from the Convention on Biological Diversity, also known as the Rio Summit: "'Biological diversity' means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems." The Canadian Biodiversity Strategy defines it as "…the variety of species and ecosystems on Earth and the ecological processes of which they are a part". It is often simply used as a catch-all term for nature. No definition is perfect; as with life itself, it's a bit nebulous and there are always exceptions.


Why a web site on biodiversity?

Biologically, the world is an astoundingly diverse place. It contains tens of millions of species, only a fraction of which have been identified. Canada's diversity of lifeforms and ecosystems is also large. Its landforms range from rainforest to desert, with mountains and plains, and each has species adapted to the conditions present there. Despite this diversity of life and land, most people have little idea of how diverse the country really is.

At the same time that little is known about the planet's diversity, it is also threatened. The effect that we humans and our activities have had on our planet have become a major concern. Pollution, erosion, desertification, increased rates of extinction and more can all be traced back to us. While these results of our activity were once simply unpleasant or only a real problem locally, they are now starting to completely change the face of life on the planet.

Changes are already happening, and no one knows how serious the results will be. These are enormous issues and concerns, and what they affect is biodiversity. Unfortunately, although many of the fundamental concepts included in the term biodiversity have been known for some time in ecology and evolution, the field of biodiversity and its goal of tying together all this information are fairly new. What this means is that researchers are trying to understand the diversity of life as it is being swept away all around us.

What we need is to understand what is at stake, what has been learned, and what we are doing and still need to do. That is the purpose of this site.

Page 2 Walk-through of the site and credits

Page 3 About the Redpath Museum and the Redpath Biodiversity Project

Page 4 Site map


Walk-through and credits