What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity, or biological diversity, is defined by the three Domains of Life: Bacteria, Archaea and Eukarya. It is the sum total of life forms on Earth, the genes they carry and the natural communities or ecosystems they form. 'Biota' is an all-encompassing term that has been given to these life forms. Many millions of life forms now exist, or have existed in the past; however we still know so little about so few.

Maintaining biological diversity within whole ecosystems is vital for their health and functionality. It is the fundamental issue we face this new century.

Healthy ecosystems are essential to provide the many natural resources we need, such as foods and natural sources of drugs.

Functioning ecosystems maintain our essential services to sustain life, such as recycling and purification of water and air, the creation of soils and the break-down of pollution.

Pristine and diverse ecosystems provide many immeasurable social, cultural and recreational values, such as those found in our many unique National Parks and World Heritage Areas. Native animals and plants are essential components of Queensland’s unique cultural identity.

Conserving and managing this biodiversity is a major challenge to the biological sciences.

Maintaining biological diversity within populations of species is also important. It ensures that genetic diversity of a species is preserved, giving them survival options. Reducing population sizes and ranges of species distributions – through overuse or environmental degradation – lowers their genetic potential to adapt or survive in rapidly changing environmental conditions. This reduces flexibility in the uses we can make of our biological heritage and in the health and sustainability of the species themselves. Reducing genetic diversity means increasing extinctions and a loss of the rich experience of nature we value today.

Museum research contributes significantly to the conservation and management of biological diversity of the species, their ecosystems and genetic diversity. This research is basic to the discovery and documentation of species that form these ecosystems and the range and potential of their genetic resources; and to detect changes in ecosystems through changes in species composition in time and space.