home elements of sustainability sustainability on coral reefs species on coral reefs solutions around the world   microdocs: short attention space science theatre
   home/elements of sustainability/diversity

You need many species to maintain a productive natural ecosystem.


Diversity affects the amount of resources we can use sustainably, because it influences ecosystem health, resilience and productivity. Taking too much from an ecosystem decreases diversity and sustainability.

 What is diversity?

Diversity (or biodiversity) is the variation within and between living things. It is measured on many levels; from genetic variation to differences between individuals within populations to differences among species and among ecosystems.

 Why preserve diversity?

Ecosystems supply us with resources we need; like food and water, building materials, medicine, cultural benefits, and income. However, the global level of diversity has fallen by 27% over the last 35 years. This means that we are losing resources because of the strong effect that diversity has on productivity. Maintaining ecosystem sustainability is the only way we can guarantee a continued supply of resources.

Diversity is important to sustainability in 3 main ways:

  • Diversity affects ecosystem productivity
    Diverse ecosystems generally use resources more efficiently. Different species use resources in many different ways; one species might use a resource that would be wasted by another species and vice versa. This means intact ecosystems are usually more productive than ones that have lost diversity.
  • Diversity increases ecosystem resilience
    Diversity affects an ecosystem’s ability to resist disturbance, like fire, storms, etc. Different types of disturbance impact organisms in different ways. Also, some species cannot live in disturbed areas where other species thrive. Diverse ecosystems are more resilient and have a better chance to recover after disturbance.
  • Diversity maintains ecosystem health
    Many interactions between species and their environment maintain ecosystem health. These interactions, called ecosystem services, help to keep an ecosystem running sustainably, and include:
    • recycling and storage of nutrients
    • maintaining water purity
    • stabilizing climate
    • protection from weather hazards

At present, technology is unable to replicate most of these services, but ecosystem services are free if the diversity of an ecosystem is maintained.


Diversity is a key element of sustainability due to its effect on productivity, resilience, and preserving quality of life. Preventing diversity loss is crucial in preserving a sustainable ecosystem.


Brosi, B. J. et al. (2007). Cultural Erosion and Biodiversity: Canoe-Making Knowledge in Pohnpei, Micronesia. Conservation Biology 21(3): 875–879. PDF retrieved 29 May 2008 from http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2007.00654.x

Chapin, F. S. et al. (2000). Consequences of changing biodiversity. Nature. 405: 234-242.

Hector, A. & Bagchi, R. (2007, 12 July). Biodiversity and ecosystem multifunctionality. Nature 448: 188-190. Retrieved 26 June 2008 from http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v448/n7150/full/nature05947.html

Lovejoy, T. (1996, May 15). Biodiversity: What is it? In: Biodiversity II. Reaka-Kudla, Wilson, and Wilson, (eds.). Joseph Henry Press: Washington DC.

Patrick, R. (1996, May 5). Biodiversity: Why is it important? Biodiversity II. PDF file retrieved 1 May 2008 from http://www.nap.edu/readingroom/books/biodiversity/part1.html

Pfeiffer, W. & McClafferty, B. (2007, December 18). HarvestPlus: Breeding Crops for Better Nutrition. Crop Science Society of America. Retrieved 1 May 2008 from http://crop.scijournals.org/cgi/content/full/47/Supplement_3/S-88

Wikipedia. (2002, March 20). Biodiversity. Wikipedia. Retrieved 1 May 2008 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodiversity

WWF. (2008, May 16). Biodiversity plummets as resource use soars. World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved 30 May 2008 from http://www.wwf.org.uk/search_results.cfm?uNewsID=633

           All content property of microdocs project.                                                                                                                          Last updated April 11, 2012.
home elements of sustainability sustainability on coral reefs species on coral reefs solutions around the world