Why Biodiversity Matters

Explore biodiversity with the Great Nature Project!

Help us photograph global biodiversity! Learn about the biodiversity in your area by going outside and taking pictures of living creatures, large and small. Share what you find with the rest of the world by uploading your photos to the Great Nature Project. Pictures uploaded directly to the Great Nature Project site will become part of a global database of biodiversity. You’ll also be able to interact with other nature lovers by commenting and suggesting identifications for the amazing range of life you see.

The best way to participate in the Great Nature Project is by creating an account and uploading photos directly to the site. However, you can also use your favorite image sharing sites and tag your photos #GreatNature. Your photos will appear in the photo stream, but they won’t be added to the biodiversity database.

What is biodiversity, and why does it matter?

From towering redwood trees to tiny insects, biodiversity refers to the variation of living things on the Earth. A common way to measure biodiversity is to count the number of different species living within a particular area, but biodiversity can also be measured genetically within a species or among habitats. The Great Nature Project encourages everyone to explore biodiversity wherever they are because each place has a unique collection of organisms.

All species are interconnected. They depend on one another. When biodiversity decreases due to habitat loss and species extinction, these connections weaken and sometimes break, harming all the species in the ecosystem. Ecosystems with greater biodiversity are stronger and more resistant to disaster than those with fewer species. For instance, some diseases kill only one kind of tree. In the early 1900s, American chestnut blight killed most of the chestnut trees in the eastern forests of North America. The forest ecosystem survived because other kinds of trees also grew there.

People benefit from biodiversity in many ways. Plants, for instance, help humans by releasing oxygen. They also provide food, shade, shelter, medicines, and fiber for clothing and paper. The root systems of plants help prevent flooding. Plants, fungi, and animals such as worms keep soil fertile and water clean. Hundreds of industries rely on plant biodiversity. Agriculture, construction, fashion, tourism, and hospitality all depend on different kinds of plants for their success. When biodiversity is decreased, the economic impact can be enormous.

Biodiversity is especially important to the medical and pharmaceutical industries. Scientists have discovered many chemicals in rain forest plants that are now used in medicines. One of the most popular pain relievers, aspirin, was originally made from the bark of willow trees. Medicines that treat some forms of cancer have been made from the rosy periwinkle, a flower that grows only on the African island of Madagascar. Every year, thousands of species go extinct— die out entirely—before scientists can determine if they might have medicinal uses.

To learn more about biodiversity, visit National Geographic’s Education website.