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Biodiversity is comprised of the totality of genes, species and ecosystems of a region.

The
occurrence of various kinds of flora and fauna in a region reflects its biological diversity or
biodiversity. In most parts of the world which are habitable, the living world abounds in
biodiversity. In a patch of forest, there is a wide variety of insects, animals, plants and trees.

All plant and animal species cannot occur at one place. Whether or not a species can occur on
a site is determined by environmental conditions of site and range of tolerance of species.
Biologically rich and unique habitats are being perished, fragmented and degraded due to
increasing human activities, resource consumption and pollution. Biodiversity loss is now
one of the most pressing crises. How to check the loss of species and erosion of gene pool is
one of the major challenges to science.

Systemic work on identifying and naming species has been in progress for the last two
centuries. But still, the numbers of species collected, described and named so far are much
less than the actual number of species present. The known and described number of species
of all organisms on earth is between 1.7 and 1.8 million, which is fewer than the 15 per cent
of the actual number. The predicted number of total species varies from 5 to 50 million and
averages at 14 million. There are many more species that have not yet been described,
especially in the tropical regions.

There is fascinating variety in organisms complex ecological relationship among organisms,


genetic diversity within species and a great variety of ecological systems. Biodiversity
consists of three hierarchical levels:
1. Genetic diversity; 2. Species diversity 3. Community and ecosystem diversity

Every species, varying from bacteria to higher plants and animals, stores an immense amount
of genetic information. For example, the number of genes is about 450-700 in mycoplasma,
4000 in E. coli, 13000 in Drosophila melanogaster, 32000 to 50000 in Oryza sativa, and
35000 to 45000 in Homo sapiens. The genetic diversity enables a population to adapt to its
environment and to respond to natural selection. If a species has more genetic diversity, it can
adapt better to the changed environmental conditions.

Species diversity refers to the variety of species within a region. The simplest measure of
species diversity is species richness, i.e. number of species per unit area. The number of
species increases with the area of the site. Generally, the greater the species richness, the
greater is the species diversity.
Diversity at the level of community and ecosystem has three perspectives, alpha diversity,
beta diversity and gamma diversity.

(i) Alpha diversity is the diversity of organism sharing the same community/habitat. A
combination of species richness and equitability/evenness is used to represent diversity
within a community habitat.

(ii) Beta diversity is the rate of replacement of species along a gradient of habitats or
communities.

(iii) Gamma diversity refers to the diversity of the habitats over the total landscape or
geographical areas. Ecosystem diversity describes the number of niches, tropic levels and
various ecological processes that sustain energy flow, food webs and recycling of nutrients.
Biodiversity varies with change in latitude or altitude. As we move from high to low
latitudes, the biological diversity increases. While in temperate region the climate is severe
with short growing period for plants in tropical rain forest, the conditions are favourable for
growth throughout the year. Favourable environmental conditions favour speciation and make
it possible for a larger number of species to occur and grow. A correlation is also found for a
wide variety of taxonomic groups such as ants, birds, butterflies and moths.

Human derive severe direct and indirect benefits from living world. Biodiversity is the source
of food, medicines, pharmaceutical drugs, fibres, rubber and timber. The biological resources
contain potentially useful resource as well. The diversity of organisms also provides many
ecological services free of charge that are responsible for maintaining ecosystem health.

Of the several thousand species of edible plants, about 20 plant species are cultivated to
produce around 85 per cent of the worlds food. Wheat, corn and rice, the three major
carbohydrate crops yield nearly two-thirds of food sustaining the human population. Fats,
oils, fibres, etc. are other uses for which more and more new species need to be investigated.

Biodiversity is a rich source of substances with therapeutic properties. Several important


pharmaceuticals have originated as plant based substances developed into valuable drug are
as follows:

(a) Morphine (Ppaver seminiferous), used as an analgesic.


(b) Quinine (Chinchena ledgeriana) used for the treatment of malaria.
(c) Taxol, an anti-cancer drug obtained from the bark of the yew tree (Taxus brevifolia, T.
baccata).

Biodiversity has also great aesthetic value. Examples of aesthetic rewards include eco-
tourism, bird watching, wildlife, pet-keeping, gardenings, etc. People have always related
biodiversity to the very existence of human race through cultural and religious beliefs.In
majority of Indian villages and towns, plants like Osmium sanctum (tulsi) Ficus religiosa
(peepal) and Prosopis cineraria (khejri) and various other trees are planted, which are
considered sacred and worshipped by the people. Several birds, and even snakes, have been
considered sacred. Plants and animals are also recognised as symbol of national pride and
cultural heritage.

Biodiversity is essential for maintenance and sustainable utilisation of goods and services
from ecological systems as well as form individual species. These services include
maintenance of gaseous composition of the atmosphere, climate control by forests, ocean
systems, natural pest control, and pollination of plants by insects and birds, formation and
protection of soil, conservation and purification of water and nutrient cycling.

Human activities are the major threat to biodiversity as they alter the natural habitat, which
protects the natural flora and fauna. Some are the main factors to extinction of species are
consequent loss of biodiversity are discussed below:
(i) Habitat Loss and Fragmentation: The destruction of habitats is the main reason for the loss
of biodiversity. When people cut down trees, fill a well, and plough grassland or burn a
forest, the natural habitat of a species is changed or destroyed. Deforestation deprives animal
life of shelter and food. This results in decrease in population of many species. Deforestation
also affects migrating animals because it disturbs their habitat.
Construction of dams, blocks spawning and migration of fishes by inundating the habits and
by changing the physical environment sometimes human cleanliness destroys the habitat of
scavengers such as vultures, kites, dogs and even insets, etc. (ii) Introduction of Exotic or
Non-native Species: New species entering a geographical region are called exotic or alien
species. Introduction of such invasive species may cause disappearance of native species
through changed biotic interactions.

Invasive species are considered second only to habitat destruction as a major cause of
extinction of species. (iii) Over-exploitation: Over-exploitation of a particular species reduces
the size of its population to an extent that it becomes vulnerable to extinction. (iv) Pollution:
Soil, water and atmospheric pollution as also communities are affected by natural
disturbances such as fire, free fall and defoliation by insects Man-made disturbances in
intensity rate and spatial extent. For example, by using fire man may more frequently change
species richness of a community. Some human impacts are new and never faced before biota,
the vast number of synthetic compounds massive releases of radiations or spillover of oil in
sea. Pollution may reduce and eliminate population of sensitive.

We should not deprive future generations from the economic and aesthetic benefits that they
can derive from biodiversity. We require more knowledge to conserve biodiversity in reduced
space and under increased pressure of human activities. Some measures have been taken for
conversation of biodiversity these are:

(a) Protected Areas: India is very rich with various biographical provinces. It ranges from the
cold desert of Ladakh and Spiti to hot desert of the Thar, the temperate forest in the
Himalayas to the lush green tropical rain forests of lowlands. To protect, preserve and
propagate this varied gift of Nature, the Government of India passed the Wild Life Protection
Act in 1972, under which natural parks and wildlife sanctuaries could be created. Creation of
biosphere reserves had also been put into practice since 1986. Protected areas are national
parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

National Parks are areas which are strictly reserved for the betterment of the wildlife and
where activities such as cultivation, grazing and forestry or plantation are not permitted and
no private ownership right is allowed.
Wildlife Sanctuary protection is given only to the fauna and operations such as harvesting of
timber, collection of minor forest products and private ownership rights are permitted as long
as they do not interfere with the well-being of the animals. (b) Biosphere Reserves: Biosphere
reserves are special category of protected areas of land and/or coastal environments, wherein
people are an integral component of the system. In biosphere reserves, wild populations as
well as traditional lifestyles of tribals and different domesticated plants and animals and
genetic resources are protected.

The Earth Summit held in 1992 at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil resulted into a convention on
biodiversity, which came into force on 29 December 1993. The convention had three key
objectives:

(a) Conservation of biological diversity;


(b) Sustainable use of biodiversity; and
(c) Fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources.
The World Conservation Union and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) support projects
worldwide to promote conservation and appropriate development of biosphere reserves.

The Indian region has contributed significantly to the global biodiversity. India is a homeland
of 170 cultivated species and 325 wild relatives of crop plants. It is centre of diversity of
animal species (zebu, chicken, mithun, water buffalo, camel); fruit plants and vegetables
(mango, jackfruit, cucurbits), edible diascoreas, cococasia, alocasia; species and condiments
(cardamom, ginger, black pepper, turmeric); and brassica, and bamboos. India also represents
a secondary centre of domestication for some animals (horse, sheep, goat, cattle, yak and
donkey) and plants (tobacco, potato and maize).

The in situ conversation of biodiversity in India is being carried out through biosphere
reserves, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and other protected areas by the Ministry of
Environment and Forests. The joint forest management systems involve forest departments
and local communities. This enables the tribal people and local communities to have access to
non- wood forest products, and at the same time protect the forest resources.

The National Bureau of Plant, Animal and Fish Genetic Resources has a number of
programmes to collect and conserve the germplasm of plants and animals in seed gene banks,
and field gene banks for in vitro conservation. Botanical and zoological gardens have large
collection of plant and animal species in different climatic regions of India.

The diverse varieties of food available through plants and animals have sustained human life
ever since man came into existence. It is our principle duty to conserve all these species. We
must adopt environment-friendly practices which do not harm natural ecosystems. The
conservation of agrobiodiversity is particularly important at a tin e when our food security is
under threat. Local knowledge, research and informal innovations relating to genetic
resources and natural resources management hold the key to preserving biodiversity.