Biodiversity is the variety of life on Earth, in all its forms and all its interactions. “Without biodiversity, there is no future for humanity,” says Prof David Macdonald, at Oxford University. It is comprised of several levels, starting with genes, then individual species, then communities of creatures and finally entire ecosystems, such as forests or coral reefs, where life interplays with the physical environment.
Without plants there would be no oxygen and without bees to pollinate there would be no fruit or nuts. The services provided by ecosystems are estimated to be worth trillions of dollars – double the world’s GDP. Biodiversity loss in Europe alone is estimated to cost the continent about 3% of its GDP, or €450m (£400m) a year.
The extinction rate of species is now thought to be about 1,000 times higher than before humans dominated the planet, which may be even faster than the losses after a giant meteorite wiped out the dinosaurs 65m years ago. The sixth mass extinction in geological history has already begun, according to some scientists, with billions of individual populations being lost. Researchers call the massive loss of wildlife a “biological annihilation”.
Changes to the climate are reversible, even if that takes centuries or millennia, and conservation efforts can work. But once species become extinct, there is no going back.