Biodiversity (Encyclopedia of Science)
The term biodiversity refers to the wide range of organismslants and animalshat exist within any given geographical region. That region may consist of a plot of land no more than a few square meters or yards, a whole continent, or the entire planet. Most commonly, discussions of biodiversity consider all the organisms that interact with each other in an extended geographical region, such as a tropical rain forest or a subtropical desert.
Concerns about biodiversity are relatively new. Only during the last quarter of the twentieth century did scientists begin to appreciate the vast number of organisms found on Earth and the complex ways in which they interact with each other and with their environments. Biologists have now discovered and named about 1.7 million distinct species of plants and animals. As many as 50 million species, however, are thought to exist.
Biodiversity in the tropics is of special interest since the richness of species found there is so great. According to some estimates, 90 percent of all plant, animal, and insect species exist in tropical regions. At the same time, surveys of organisms in the tropics have been very limited. Those studies that have been conducted provide only a hint of the range of life that may exist there. As an example, one study of a 108-square kilometer (42-square mile) reserve of dry forest in Costa Rica found about 700 plant...
(The entire section is 803 words.)
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