We hear a lot about the importance of biodiversity these days-but just what is biodiversity and why is it so important?
Put simply, biodiversity is the number of different species of organisms that live in a particular area.
The health and survival of any habitat or ecosystem depends on a complex web of interactions between the many different plants, animals, fungi, and microbes that live there. This intricate web of interactions is vital to the maintenance of our soil, air, and water quality.
There are many other benefits of protecting areas with high biodiversity. For example, of the top 150 prescription drugs in the US, 118 were derived from natural sources like plants from areas of rich biodiversity.
One of the newest discovered benefits of biodiversity is in the control of zoonotic diseases, or diseases that can transfer to humans from infected animals. Well known examples of zoonotic diseases are Avian Flu, West Nile Virus and Lyme Disease.
Research suggests there may be a link between the diversity of host animals in an area and the likelihood that the diseases will transfer to humans. In one study, scientists looked at areas in the US with different levels of bird diversity to see if this affected how likely humans were to be infected with West Nile Virus.
Even after considering variables such as total bird and human population density, they found that areas with the most diverse bird populations also had the lowest number of human infections. The more we learn about biodiversity, the more we understand that what's good for an area's nature and wildlife is also good for the people living there!