What is biodiversity and why is it important?

Biodiversity is life

Imagine there only would be midgets on earth. Or only cacti. What would the world look like then? It wouldn’t work, would it?

Different species on earth keep nature in balance. Together they form a living and productive nature. This is what we call biodiversity.


Yes, it is an odd word which many people have never heard off before. ‘Bio’ means life; ‘diversity’ means variety, differences. Biodiversity is an umbrella term for all the different species we have on earth. It’s important for us – for example – not to only have gulls but also sparrows. Not only grass but also sand. Varity is important for the balance in nature, since there are different species, nature remains in balance.    

Biodiversity is more important than you might think. Because of biodiversity we have agriculture , just to name something. More than forty percent of the medicines against cancer are derived from nature. Biodiversity provides for clean water, fertile soils and a stable climate. It also delivers food and resources for housing, clothes, fuel and medicine. These natural resources underpin our existence.


Biodiversity encompasses all species on earth, including all animal and plant species. At this moment nearly two million species are known, under which some 40.000 species in the Netherlands. Probably in reality there are many millions of species on earth. Thus, a large part of biodiversity is still unknown. Also in the Netherlands new species are still continuously being discovered. Further reading about species conservation in The Netherlands.


Besides the variety of species, biodiversity also encompasses the diverse ecosystems (or: habitats) in which species occur. For example the tropical rain forests, the coral reefs, the savannas or the raised bogs. Further reading about the conservation of ecosystems in The Netherlands.


Finally biodiversity also encompasses the genetic variation within species. For example the varieties within a tree species such as the wild apple or the different subspecies of an animal, such as the large copper.

Also there is the variety of  life forms domesticated by humans. These include animals that were developed into agricultural breeds or plants made into crop species.

The importance of biodiversity

The world cannot do without biodiversity. Species and ecosystems for example provide for the production of oxygen, the decomposition of dead animals and plants, pollination of plants (including crops), water purification and pest control. Biodiversity for humans means food, construction materials, fuels (fire wood) and resources for clothing (such as cotton) and medicines. This is called ecosystem services.

Further reading about sustainable use of (genetic) biodiversity in The Netherlands.

Knowledge about biodversity

Scientific research into biodiversity also regularly leads to technological innovation, economic progress and an increase in human wellbeing (for example in case it leads to new medicines). Further reading about on biodiversity knowledge in The Netherlands.