Biodiversity refers to the variation of life at all levels of biological organization - genes, species, and ecosystems – in all their mind-boggling manifestations on the planet. Through the provision of ecosystem “goods and services” it is the most salient feature of life on earth. It supports all of our economic and social development, and is vital to our health and well-being. Species of animals and plants have always been important as sources of food, fuels, medicines, clothing and building materials, while ecosystems provide and maintain supplies of clean water, soil and air. However, this is frequently taken for granted in an increasingly developed and globalised world.
Why is the living world so diverse; that is, what forces and processes led to the evolution and proliferation of so many species? The dynamics that allow interacting species to coexist in an ecosystem simultaneously influence the productivity, nutrient dynamics and stability of that ecosystem and this process can go further; species have coevolved giving rise to a world of symbiotic ecosystems. What happens if those dynamics get thrown off balance? What evidence is there that suggests that biodiversity is becoming substantially reduced on a planetary scale? What methods and new tools do scientists currently employ to map and assess biodiversity both locally and globally? What are the stakes for human health, economic prosperity and long-term survival? How should access to biological resources be responsibly and equitably managed? And, finally, the evidence that human actions may be harming, perhaps irreversibly, the biodiversity upon which we all depend raises yet another question: what is the state of affairs in international efforts to counter further losses of biodiversity?