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Why is biodiversity important?

Biodiversity is essential for the processes that support all life on Earth, including humans. Without a wide range of animals, plants and microorganisms, we cannot have the healthy ecosystems that we rely on to provide us with the air we breathe and the food we eat. And people also value nature of itself.

Some aspects of biodiversity are instinctively widely valued by people but the more we study biodiversity the more we see that all of it is important – even bugs and bacteria that we can’t see or may not like the look of. There are lots of ways that humans depend upon biodiversity and it is vital for us to conserve it. Pollinators such as birds, bees and other insects are estimated to be responsible for a third of the world’s crop production. Without pollinators we would not have apples, cherries, blueberries, almonds and many other foods we eat. Agriculture is also reliant upon invertebrates – they help to maintain the health of the soil crops grow in.  Soil is teeming with microbes that are vital for liberating nutrients that plants need to grow, which are then also passed to us when we eat them. Life from the oceans provides the main source of animal protein for many people.

Trees, bushes and wetlands and wild grasslands naturally slow down water and help soil to absorb rainfall. When they are removed it can increase flooding. Trees and other plants clean the air we breathe and help us tackle the global challenge of climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide. Coral reefs and mangrove forests act as natural defences protecting coastlines from waves and storms. 

Many of our medicines, along with other complex chemicals that we use in our daily lives such as latex and rubber, also originate from plants. Spending time in nature is increasingly understood to lead to improvements in people’s physical and mental health. Simply having green spaces and trees in cities has been shown to decrease hospital admissions, reduce stress and lower blood pressure.

Further reading

Plural valuation of nature matters for environmental sustainability and justice
by Berta Martin-Lopez, Social-Ecological Systems Institute, Faculty of Sustainability, Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany

Find answers to 16 key questions about biodiversity

  • Introduction

    At its simplest, biodiversity describes life on Earth – the different genes, species and ecosystems that comprise the biosphere and the varying habitats, landscapes and regions in which they exist. We've answered some of your most popular questions about biodiversity.

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  • What is biodiversity?

    Biodiversity is all the living things on our planet – from the smallest bacteria to the largest plants and animals. So far, we have identified around 1.6 million species but that is probably only a small fraction of the forms of life on Earth.

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  • Why is biodiversity important?

    Biodiversity is essential for the processes that support all life on Earth, including humans. Without a wide range of animals, plants and microorganisms, we cannot have healthy ecosystems.

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  • How do we measure biodiversity?

    There is still much we do not know about the complexity of biodiversity on Earth. There are a number of ways that we measure it, with counting species the most common approach.

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  • What is the scale of biodiversity loss?

    The list of known recent extinctions is still a small fraction of all species on the planet but it is far above prehuman levels and the evidence suggests it is rising fast.

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  • We regularly hear of new species being discovered - does that not offset the loss of existing species?

    Every year thousands of previously unknown species are discovered, described and named.

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  • Where is most biodiversity loss happening and why?

    Biodiversity loss has been most pronounced on islands and in specific locations around the tropics.

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  • Is the rate of biodiversity loss increasing or decreasing?

    Compared to the 1.6 million species known about on Earth, the number of recorded extinctions can seem very low.

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  • What is the state of biodiversity in the UK?

    The UK boasts more than 70,000 known species of animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms.

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  • How do humans affect biodiversity?

    Humanity impacts the planet's biodiversity in multiple ways, both deliberate and accidental.

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  • How does the growing global population and increasing consumption affect biodiversity?

    Since the middle of the 20th century, the human population has grown dramatically.

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  • How does climate change affect biodiversity?

    The environmental changes being driven by climate change are disturbing natural habitats and species in ways that are still only becoming clear.

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  • How does deforestation affect biodiversity?

    Forests contain some of the richest concentrations of biodiversity on the planet. But between 1990 and 2020, around 420 million hectares of mainly tropical forest has been lost.

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  • What can we do to protect biodiversity?

    Loss of natural habitats has been taking place over thousands of years, but scientists are confident that we have ways to help biodiversity recover.

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  • What can I do as an individual to protect biodiversity?

    While large scale changes in behaviour, policies and measures will be essential, individuals have a vital part to play.

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  • Can we allow nature to regenerate without intervention?

    Biodiversity loss is a complex issue involving many overlapping processes. While nature can recover when left to do so, it requires dramatic changes in our behaviour for this to happen.

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  • How do we decide what is worth saving or putting our efforts into protecting?

    The value of the natural world can be interpreted in many ways, from their raw economic value to the inherent social, cultural and emotional benefits they provide.

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