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9: The Value of Biodiversity

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    Chapter Hook

    Most of the medicine we depend on today originated because of the diversity of plants across the globe. New medicines sometimes come from newly found species, but there is still much to learn from already discovered species as well. In 2019, research was published about a newly discovered quality on a well-known California plant called yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum). Among native people of California, yerba santa was already well known to have medicinal qualities, but only recently did research scientists begin to test them. It was discovered that a compound in yerba santa decreases the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, a leading cause of death in the United States, by having protective and supportive qualities on the neurons in our nervous system. This research is not only vital from a medical perspective, but also exemplifies the importance of protecting diversity.

                                                                 Yerba santa in bloom on a roadside.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{a}\) Yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum) in bloom. Image by Breck22 (Public domain)

    Biodiversity is a broad term for the variety of life on Earth. Traditionally, ecologists have measured biodiversity by taking into account both the number of species and the number of individuals of each species. However, biologists now measure biodiversity at a number of organizational levels, including ecosystem, species, and genetic diversity. This focuses efforts to preserve the biologically and technologically important elements of biodiversity. Biodiversity is important to the survival and welfare of human populations because it has impacts on our health and our ability to feed ourselves through agriculture and harvesting populations of wild animals.


    Modified by Rachel Schleiger and Melissa Ha from Importance of Biodiversity from Environmental Biology by Matthew R. Fisher (licensed under CC-BY)

    • 9.1: Ecosystem Diversity
      Ecosystem diversity is the number and relative abundances of different types of ecosystems, such as coral reefs, prairies, and forests. This level of diversity is key to providing ecosystem services, natural products and processes that benefit humans, such as climate regulation, pollination, and food. The annual value of ecosystem services is estimated to be at least $53 trillion.
    • 9.2: Species Diversity
      Species diversity consists of species richness, the number of species, and species evenness, the relative abundance of species. While only 1.5 million species have been described, there are estimated to be 8-11 million species on Earth. Species richness is a key source of new pharmaceuticals.
    • 9.3: Genetic Diversity
      Genetic diversity is variation within species and provides the raw material for evolutionary adaptation to occur. Without genetic diversity, a species or population risks susceptibility to new diseases. When all individuals are genetically similar, it is less likely that some will have disease-resistant genes.
    • 9.4: Patterns of Biodiversity
      Biogeography, the study of the past and present distribution of species around the world, reveals high species richness in the tropics. Most of the world's biodiversity hotspots, which have high species richness and risk of species loss, are concentrated in the tropics. These regions also have many endemic species, which are occur occur locally.
    • 9.5: Data Dive- Biodiversity and Drugs
    • 9.6: Review


    This page titled 9: The Value of Biodiversity is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Melissa Ha and Rachel Schleiger (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .

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