ON JUNE 30, 2009, THE BRI PROGRAM OFFICE WILL BE CLOSING DOWN TEMPORARILY. THE ACTING DIRECTOR OF BRI AND THE BRI EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE ARE WORKING TO REINSTATE STAFF AND WE HOPE TO BEGIN PROGRAM ACTIVITIES AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. WE DO NOT ANTICIPATE ANY CHANGES TO THE UPCOMING FALL 2009 BRI BIOLOGY AND CONSERVATION LECTURE SERIES OR TO THE 2010 NORTHEAST NATURAL HISTORY CONFERENCE, SO PLEASE PLAN ACCORDINGLY.
What is Biodiversity?
In the broadest sense, biodiversity is the sum of the variety of all living organisms at the species level. This includes the earth's plants, animals, fungi, and even microbes that we can't see with the naked eye. About 1.75 million species of organisms have been named, and there are still an estimated ten to 100 million more that scientists have not yet been described! In addition to species diversity, there are two other components to the definition of biodiversity — genetic diversity and ecosystem diversity.
Within individual species, there can be a tremendous amount of genetic diversity. This genetic diversity is a major component of biodiversity. It is essential to the process of evolution by natural selection, because it provides the raw materials by which new species arise. Evolution is often a very slow process, taking tens of thousands (even hundreds of millions) of years to produce significantly different kinds of living things. The slowness of the process becomes important when whole groups of organisms decrease in numbers, as more and more individual populations representing their common heritage are lost. Once genetic diversity is depleted, it may take millions of years for a group to recover, if at all.
Ecosystem diversity is another element of biodiversity. An ecosystem is comprised of a geographical location, its physical features and the organisms that survive and interact there.