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Environment & Wildlife, World Trends

What Does Biodiversity Mean to Us?

May 21st 2024

One of the biggest environmental challenges of our time is the global decline of biodiversity. But what does the word biodiversity actually represent, and why have the United Nations declared an International Day for it?

In this blog, WorkingAbroad breaks down the meaning and importance of biodiversity, and proudly presents just a few examples of our many projects that support biodiversity restoration!

Nudibranch in AustraliaCoral Reef Conservation Australia | WorkingAbroadUnderstanding biodiversity

In dictionaries, the word biodiversity is often defined as something along the lines of “the variety of plants and animals in a place.” While that definition is broadly true, it leaves out half the story.

For one thing, biodiversity relates to all life on our planet, not just animals and plants. For example, one of the most diverse groups of living things are fungi- there are so many species that scientists have only been able to name about 6% of them so far!

Secondly, biodiversity exists on more levels than one:

  • Genetic diversity is variation in genes and DNA, for example in a particular species.
  • Species diversity describes the variety of species in an ecosystem.
  • Ecosystem diversity represents the range of habitats and communities over a large area such as the biosphere.

Overwhelmed yet? Biodiversity may seem like a pretty vague term after all that, but it boils down to a simple truth about biology: variation is vital to the effective functioning of our living world.

The value of biodiversity

Africa hornbill in NamibiaVolunteer with Big Cats | Volunteer Namibia | Working AbroadA diverse variety of living things is what supports a healthy ecosystem, by increasing the chances of survival for all of its organisms. High biodiversity means that life processes can depend a little on many things, rather than heavily on fewer things.

This inter-reliance means that biodiverse ecosystems are resilient to fluctuations in populations and environmental conditions, because while one species may be impacted negatively, another may be impacted positively.

For example, suppose an unusually harsh winter meant fewer of a certain prey species survived. In a biodiverse ecosystem, predators wouldn’t suffer too much since their diet would be made up of many different species. Predators having a greater choice of prey would also allow the damaged population of the first species to recover.

Alternatively, suppose a pollinator species suffered population decline due to a new disease. In a diverse ecosystem, this wouldn’t impact plant pollination too badly since other pollinators would still be around.

As well as this essential support role, biodiversity has value to humans specifically since we depend on it for countless natural resources such as food and medicines. Thirdly, it is generally accepted that biodiversity has ‘intrinsic’ value, that is value of its own, unconnected to its usefulness. Think how much less amazing, inspiring, and vivid the world would be without wildlife!

Restoring biodiversity

Now that you know how important biodiversity is, you can imagine the rewards of protecting and restoring it! Why not research conservation projects in your local area and ask to volunteer?

If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can get involved with biodiversity restoration while having the travel experience of a lifetime with one of WorkingAbroad’s wildlife conservation projects!

animal drinking canadaVolunteer in Canada | WorkingAbroadWildlife Rescue and Rehab Volunteer Project, Canada

This brand-new volunteering project is a unique chance to see Canadian wildlife up close while gaining practical wildlife care experience. You will work and live in the remote Ontario countryside, surrounded by stunning forests and lakes which are home to black bears, moose, wolves, deer, otters, beavers, raccoons, and coyotes to name just a few!

This project supports local biodiversity by aiding the survival of countless injured, orphaned or sick individuals, giving the local wildlife populations the best possible chance to thrive.

The best part? Volunteers get to follow each admission on its journey towards rehabilitation and participate in releases when an animal is ready to return to the wild. What could be more rewarding than that?

Fur Seals SeaSearchVolunteer in South Africa | WorkingAbroadSea Search Whale and Dolphin Research Programme, South Africa

Sea Search is a volunteer organization which collects data on marine species and habitats to better understand the health of marine ecosystems.

Our Whale and Dolphin Research project offers an exciting opportunity to gain a range of field skills such as marine surveying, bioacoustics, and photo ID, as well as learning about marine mammal ecology. As well as monitoring whales and dolphins, the project has recently taken on a third focus: Cape fur seals! Monitoring of these endemic mammals is particularly important in light of mass die-offs in recent years, the cause of which is under ongoing investigation.

Alongside crucial biodiversity monitoring, volunteers have the luxury of living next to beautiful beaches unspoiled by tourism, so there is always plenty to explore during free time!

Elephant in the jungle in LaosElephant Volunteering in Laos | Working AbroadElephant Volunteer Project, Laos

Volunteering with this project offers the ultimate flexibility, with four different program options to suit different availabilities and budgets. The newly reinstated 7-day project is a popular option, offering a comprehensive insight into the working of an ethical elephant sanctuary.

Experience Laos’ amazing biodiversity while staying on a 530 hectare area of protected forest, and spend your days assisting with maintenance of the sanctuary, caring for the elephants, and getting creative producing artwork, photos, or elephant dung paper!

Written by WorkingAbroad Blogger Freya Brodrick

About the Author

WorkingAbroad Projects

Blog articles about our volunteer projects, the wider world and from volunteers in the field are shared here for everyone to get inspired and learn more about wildlife conservation topics, volunteering abroad and much more.