Biodiversity is a concept that touches upon many areas of study. It ranges from how to preserve the globe's vast assortment of genes to counting and cataloguing the species in an ecosystem. It also includes the interactions between species. For instance it looks into trying to determine if there are too few species in an ecosystem, too many, or if the species is too new, as in the case of evasive species. Humans also attempt to put value on biodiversity. Some values are economic some are ecological. Finally, we have cultural priorities on biodiversity, but none of them universal, even within a single society.
The interactions between the various plants animals and micro-organisms in the biosphere serve a great many purposes from scrubbing industrial gasses to regulation of global temperatures and precipitation. In each situation a species not only has an effect on its own local habitat but may also have an effect on the Earth's environment on a whole. In this light, perhaps we can view the Earth's biosphere not just as a collection of species and their isolated interactions but as pieces of a whole organism. This concept is also known as the Gaia hypothesis where the Earth functions like any other organism that seeks to maintain its homeostasis by regulating its many processes.
Human health and well being is tied in very closely with the Gaia concept. There seems to be a direct correlation between the strength and health of a regions biodiversity and the relative health of the people living there. For instance, in our high density urban areas with low biodiversity levels we have very high rates of asthma and other pollutant borne illnesses (Suzuki).
On the other hand as we continue to find new species we will find new relationships with other known species. This could lead to the development of new medicines or techniques. Recently strains of the fungi
have been found to kill malaria mosquitoes. While commercial application is years away this highlights the important role each species has in the world order (Ensirink). The finding of an unnoticed fungus may lead to the creation of a treatment which can lead to the decrease of human suffering.
There are numerous examples of the detriments of humans living in an environment where there is a documented loss of biodiversity. For instance fragmentation of New England forests have led to the removal of the competitors and predators of the white-footed mouse. As a result, the populations of these rodents have increased giving the deer tick that transmits Lyme a deep reservoir for hosting the disease. In fact, Lyme disease is now the leading vector-borne infectious illness in the United States (Osfeield, SEAM)
Biodiversity issues are extremely important in our cities. In our modern world more and more people will be living in urban areas. It's predicted that by 2015 the growth of urban areas with populations over 1 million people (like Greater New Haven) will have increased by 40% (Crane). Soon there will be far more people living in areas of low biodiversity levels than in high levels. This creates urgency that as science educators we need to address. The urban dwellers will not only be consumers of natural resources from beyond their own environs but also most likely be involved in making laws regarding its use. The more our future citizens understand about the concept of biodiversity the better their decisions will be in the future.