Biodiversity: Species count, whether or not there is anybody to do the counting

Today is the International Day for Biological Diversity, with the theme ‘Our solutions are in nature’. People, businesses and research institutions around the world are commemorating this day by sharing their vision on what the global community can do to improve biodiversity. At PRé, biodiversity assessment is a growing part of our services. We are taking this opportunity to look back at all the reasons why biodiversity is so important.

Global biodiversity is falling at an alarming rate

This is the conclusion from the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). It is the conclusion of the Living Planet Report by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF). And it is the only conclusion one can draw from a look at the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.

Fortunately, it is increasingly in the interest of businesses, NGOs and governments to bring biodiversity loss to a halt. But what is biodiversity? And why is it so important?

What is biodiversity exactly?

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) defined biological diversity as:

“the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems.”

In short, biodiversity is the genetic variety of species, the variety between species and the diversity of ecosystems.

  • Each breed of dog contributes to the genetic variety of the dog species.
  • The variety between species hinges on the number of different species in an ecosystem. An ecosystem with 5 species has more variety between species than an ecosystem with 3 species.
  • The diversity of ecosystems relates to the differences between types of ecosystems, such as rainforests, deserts and grasslands

More information about the different types of biodiversity can be found in this video from the Khan Academy.

Why is it important to us?

We very much depend on biodiversity for our survival. Sometimes, the links are very direct. The oxygen we breathe is made by plants. Food like fruit and nuts requires pollination from bees. Our homes are made with natural building materials like wood.

Some links are more indirect. Genetic diversity offered by plants gives us traditional medicine and raw materials for pharmaceutical companies. Biodiversity also functions as a support system for healthy ecosystems. Mangrove forests, for instance, protect coastlines.

You can think of ecosystem services in four categories: provisioning services, regulating services, cultural services and supporting services as the basis.

Ecosystem services in four categories

Value in itself

These examples of the importance of nature, biodiversity and ecosystem services all find their origin in the value brings us, humans. Of course, this is not the only way, and perhaps not even the most important way, to look at the importance of biodiversity. Biodiversity also has intrinsic value, independent of the benefits it brings to humans: it has value in itself.

Many philosophers have written about intrinsic value. The intrinsic value of nature is perhaps best explained by a quote from professor Holmes Rolston III in Philosophy Gone Wild (1986):

“These things [species] count, whether or not there is anybody to do the counting.”

Biodiversity as part of sustainability

Luckily, there are people to do the counting. At PRé, we are some of those people, and we invite you to join us, to protect both the value of the ecosystem services and the intrinsic value of biodiversity. There are different methods available to measure biodiversity. Do you already know that you’re interested in incorporating biodiversity metrics into your sustainability policy? Please get in touch with Daniël Kan.

Daniël Kan


I believe that incorporating sustainability in every decision we make, will have a positive impact on our lives. In order to make informed decisions, we need to make reliable information accessible for everybody. I want to provide information to support people’s needs. Making a positive impact is what motivates me most!

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