Biodiversity and Health

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Biodiversity refers to the variety of life forms, not just to rare and endangered forms of life, nor just to big, attractive animals and plants. It includes every living thing—the common, the ordinary, the ugly, and even those organisms invisible to the naked eye. Also, biodiversity refers to more than individual species. It includes the genes they contain, and the ecosystems and habitats of which they form part.

So, biodiversity can be considered at three levels:

  • genetic - that is, the differences between the genes of particular species
  • species - where a particular variety of animal or plant may occur in many different shapes, sizes, and colors
  • ecosystem - where a habitat contains a number of species which depend on each other

Biodiversity is essential for supporting human life on earth. The health of the natural environment depends on continuing diversity; for instance, if one species is lost from an ecosystem, then all the other species in that ecosystem are affected. Biodiversity also is important for ensuring agricultural productivity and for the ongoing sustainable use of natural resources. Further, biological diversity ensures clean air and water, and fertile soils.


Now it is your turn to find out more about biodiversity. Visit What is Biodiversity? for background knowledge on biodiversity. You can return to this resource whenever you feel that you need to refresh you understanding of the topic.

Next read the following articles about biodiversity and human disease. For each article, take notes so that you will be able to respond to the questions found below:

When you are done, answer the questions in your own words in a paragraph-length response. Provide examples of each.

  1. According to the article “Tipping the Scale: The Delicate Balance Between Microbes and Man,” what are the benefits of biodiversity?
  2. How can a change in the environment lead to a change in disease behavior?
  3. What role does human activity play in environmental changes that affect biodiversity?

Knowledge Check

Write a brief essay explaining the possible effect of human activities on the emergence of “new” diseases and the resurgence of established ones with regards to these issues:

  1. Climate Change
  2. Travel, Migration, and International Trade
  3. Warfare and Social Disruption
  4. Urbanization

Your essay should use explicitly stated information from the articles you have read. It should connect ideas within the articles, and identify and evaluate relevant information that you have found.

Try This At Home

Biodiversity and Human Health, an extensive Web resource from the Ecological Society of America, provides in-depth coverage of the issues presented in this lesson. Topics include biodiversity maintenance and resource management, conservation programs and sustainable development, wellness care and preventative medicine vs. managed for-profit care, human population control vs. emerging infectious diseases, and more.

Biodiversity and Conservation is an online hypertext book that draws together resources from all over the Web to present a comprehensive and highly informative introduction to the topic of biodiversity.

AAAS Atlas of Population and the Environment contains the text for the book published by AAAS. It is an important analysis of the relationships between human population and the environment. Illustrating through text, maps, and diagrams how population affects the world's ecosystems and natural resources both in the short and long term, the Atlas brings together a wealth of information from the most up-to-date sources.

This esheet is a part of the Preserving Health through Biological Diversity lesson.

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