What is Biodiversity?
The word 'biodiversity'- coined by biologist E.O. Wilson in 1986 as a contraction of the phrase 'biological diversity'- came into widespread use after the United Nations' Rio de Janeiro 'Earth Summit' Conference in 1992. Biodiversity is the variety of living things, including diversity within species (genetic diversity), diversity between species and diversity of ecosystems.
British Columbia is the most biologically diverse of Canada's provinces and territories, and is home to many regionally, nationally and globally significant species and ecosystems.
An ecosystem is an interacting system of living organisms including their relationships with each other and with their non-living environmental surroundings. In a properly functioning ecosystem the components are inseparable and act upon each other. All living things including humans are part of and depend on ecosystems.
When biodiversity characteristics are assessed for any location or region, three attributes of biodiversity are considered:
- Composition describes the parts of each biodiversity component in that area (for example, habitat types, species present, genetic diversity within species).
- Structure refers to the physical characteristics supporting that composition (for example, size of habitats, forest canopy structure, etc).
- Function means the ecological and evolutionary processes affecting life within that structure (for example, pollination, natural disturbances, predator-prey relationships).
British Columbia is the most biologically diverse of Canada's provinces and territories, and includes many regionally, nationally and globally significant species and ecosystems. The province's diverse ecosystems are home to: 1,138 species of vertebrates including 488 bird species; 142 mammals; 18 reptiles; 22 amphibians; and, 468 fish. The province also supports between 50,000 and 70,000 invertebrate species including 35,000 insect species, as well as 2,790 native species of vascular plants,1,600 lichens,10,000 species of fungi, and more.
British Columbia is important from a continental perspective because so many sensitive species and ecosystems that have been lost from other areas are still present here. Many of these species and ecosystems are found nowhere else in Canada. Some are found nowhere else in the world.
Some of the significant species and ecosystems in BC include:
- Endangered Vancouver Island Marmot, not found anywhere else in the world;
- Eighty per cent of the world's Cassin's Auklets nest in BC;
- Alm ost all the world's Mountain Caribou;
- More than half the world's Mountain Goats; and
- Temperate rainforests (which are decreasing rapidly elsewhere around the world).
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