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All Connected… What is Biodiversity?

By Pascale Bider

What does biodiversity mean?

In general, “biodiversity” is a word that is used to describe the variety of different living things in an ecosystem. When scientists talk about biodiversity, they are looking at three specific parameters. A scientist would say an ecosystem is biodiverse if it has many distinct species, if the species are very different from one another, and if it has roughly the same number of organisms in each species.

Why is biodiversity important?

All living things in an ecosystem are connected in a network, and they depend on each other to survive. Humans are part of this network too; we depend on healthy ecosystems and all the species in them to provide our fresh water, food, fuel, and medicine. Things like pollution, extreme weather events, and invasive species can seriously harm native plants, animals, and insects. If an entire species disappears from the ecosystem, it can have devastating effects on the rest of the network. Biodiversity can help prevent this catastrophe. To understand this, picture the ecosystem as an airplane, where the wings are attached to the body with rivets. Each rivet represents a species in the ecosystem. A disturbance is an event that rips out a rivet from the plane, like a disease or storm that might kill a species in an ecosystem. When too many of the rivets are ripped out, the wings fall off and the plane crashes. An ecosystem that has little biodiversity might only have two or three rivets to hold up its wings, while an ecosystem that is biodiverse might have hundreds of rivets in different shapes and sizes, which makes the plane very strong!

Bio Diversity in Action: An interview with Mara McHaffie

All around the world, more and more species are disappearing as humans continue to damage our planet. Some scientists say that we are currently living through a mass extinction event. Luckily people everywhere are mobilizing to protect the living things around them, and you can help too! Meet Mara McHaffie, an ecologist at McMaster University who is conducting research on bee and plant biodiversity in Ontario. We asked Mara a few questions about her work.

Q: What is your area of research?

A: I research the restoration of tallgrass prairie ecosystems. Many ecosystems are not as healthy as they used to be because of changes made by humans. Restoration means trying to make those ecosystems healthier again and increase biodiversity. Tallgrass prairies are like meadows: they contain a lot of grasses and beautiful wildflowers but not many trees

Q: How do you collect your biodiversity data

A:  I collect data on plant diversity by recording all the plant species I find in several small square areas (called quadrats) in a habitat. I also record how much of the area each plant species covers. I collect data on bee diversity by catching bees in small colourful cups that I place on the ground in a habitat, and then identifying these bees in the lab.

Q: Why is bio diversity threatened in your ecosystem?

A: Many tallgrass prairies have been destroyed so that people can use the area for farmland. Also, tallgrass prairies need fire to regenerate, but humans tend to stop these fires from happening because they are worried about safety.

Q: What can the public do to help protect tallgrass prairies?

A: There are many citizen scientist groups that plant prairie plants on areas of land to recreate this ecosystem. Citizen scientists can also report rare plants and animals.

Thanks Mara for the helpful knowledge on ecosystems!

Make A Biodiversity Column!

This Biodiversity column provides you with a model to explore the link between land and water. The model has three basic components: soil, water and plants. by: Maggie He

Grab the Materials you need to make this with the list below, and scan the video using the Zappar app to learn how to make your own biodiversity column!

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