September 30, 2020

What is biodiversity and why does it matter

A lesson in biodiversity

If you have ever visited Discovery Place Science or Discovery Place Nature, you’ve probably explored and learned about biodiversity with us at some point.

Biodiversity is short for “biological diversity.” It is a big word that essentially means the variety the living things making up a particular habitat or part of the world.

The biodiversity of plants, animals and other living things greatly impacts a habitat’s ability to thrive. Typically, the more variety found in the habitat, the better productivity within that habitat, or ecosystem. And thriving ecosystems are very important to us as humans. Many species are involved in providing us with essential items such as our food and medicine.
There are three different levels of biodiversity – genetic, species and ecosystem.

Genetic biodiversity represents the variety of genes within individual organisms and groups of those organisms. Generally, populations with the most genetic diversity stand the best chance of surviving environmental change. Larger populations tend to contain more genetic diversity.

Species biodiversity encompasses all the different species (richness) and all the individuals within each species (abundance). Generally, ecosystems rich in species diversity are more stable than those with poor species diversity. In an ecosystem lacking biodiversity, the loss of just one species can cause a major disruption.

Ecosystem biodiversity is the variety of ecosystems within a region. A region with more types of ecosystems is better able to support a variety of living things than one with fewer ecosystems. People reduce ecosystem diversity when they convert natural areas into homes, businesses or other developments.

The most significant threats of biodiversity loss come from human activity – things like population growth resulting in habitat loss, overexploitation of resources and global warming. Invasive species are also a big concern for biodiversity loss.

The good news is that each of us has the ability conserve and protect biodiversity in ways that are both big and small. These include recycling, using energy-conserving light bulbs and energy-efficient appliances in your home, choosing to walk instead of drive when possible, picking up litter from area greenspaces, using rechargeable batteries, planting pollinator-friendly plants and much more.

Want a simple way to see some of the biodiversity featured right here in North Carolina? The next time you take a walk or hike in the area, be a wildlife tracker. Keep an eye out for these animals (in the slideshow below) that are commonly found in our region of North Carolina. Be sure to document the date, time and location of each sighting and any other observations you make about the animal. You can even try to snap a picture of each animal if you have a camera with you.

Learn even more about biodiversity with these related Stay at Home Science activities:

The amygdala is a bundle of important nerve cells deep inside the brain. Everyone has two amygdales—there’s one in each half of the brain. The amygdala works with the parts of the brain that control memory, behavior and emotion, and this tiny group of cells packs a big punch when it comes to emotions, especially stress and fear.

Most people don’t like to feel scared, but humans are fascinated by it! Think of all the spookiness in the month of October. The rush of energy and emotion people get by being scared can be enjoyable in controlled situations, like a scary movie or an amusement park ride.

No matter the source of the scare, the amygdala’s role is the same. The amygdala is like a bridge connecting two very different parts of the brain: the part that controls the body functions you aren’t aware of (like breathing) and the part that “thinks” for you.

This means that when your amygdala gets information that tells you something scary is happening, it can send signals that make your heart race and your breathing get faster, making you feel scared!