By Michael J. Lynch, University of South Florida, FL


The term biodiversity refers to variability in life forms found in ecosystems, but can also refer to variability in the genetic composition of species. The term can be qualified to refer to specific measures of biodiversity, such as marine biodiversity, or even within such a division to smaller measures of biodiversity such as marine mammal biodiversity, coral reef biodiversity and so on.

Biodiversity is a measure of certain attributes of an ecosystem, but specifically in ecological studies to the biodiversity of living things in ecosystems. These living things include various species, and when referring to all living things, the term biota is often employed.

In general terms, the biodiversity of ecosystems is a function of the composition of ecosystems. Biodiversity, for example, tends to be greater in tropical ecosystems, and biodiversity is greatest in regions such as tropical rainforests. Biodiversity tends to be lowest in arid conditions and at the earth’s poles.

Earth’s biodiversity has a long history, and varies across different world historical epochs or ages. Some researchers suggest that biodiversity increases over time in the fossil record. Not all researchers agree on this interpretation, however, noting gaps and deficiencies in the fossil record which suggest that a general conclusion on this issue cannot be reached. In recent years, scientists who have explored the Anthropocene extinction, for example, suggest declining global biodiversity rather than increasing biodiversity (see, Anthropocene).

Consistent with the view on biodiversity associated with the Anthropocene perspective, research on climate change suggests that as climate change progress, biodiversity declines (e.g., Pawson et al., 2013). The intersection of biodiversity and climate change research has also lead to the observation that climate change can produce biodiversity hotspots (e.g., Capon et al, 2103). A biodiversity hotspot is a location where a significant segment of an ecosystem’s life forms are under threat of harm and increased risk from extinction pressure due to human activity.

Biodiversity issues are a concern with respect to agriculture. In agricultural production, humans change the landscape of the ecosystem and can impact biodiversity of natural species or species native to an area. Particularly problematic in this regard in monoculture since it eliminates local biodiversity and replaces it with a single agricultural crop that in turn reduces species biodiversity (e.g., Felton et al., 2010).

Decreasing biodiversity can have adverse consequences on human health. One effect is through disease patterns that can emerge as biodiversity is transformed (Cunningham, Dobson and Hudson, 2012). There are a variety of other potential health effects for humans including those related to marine biodiversity and its effects on the food supply.

One of the most significant impacts on terrestrial biodiversity is habitat loss. Habitat loss can occur in a variety of ways. For example, as noted above, a significant concern is the loss of natural habitat to agricultural development and its effects on biodiversity. Deforestation also plays a role as does habitat fragmentation (Krauss et al., 2010).

Green criminology has produced limited discussion of issues related to biodiversity (Walters, 2006). Future research in this area could address the connections between biodiversity loss and ecological/environmental justice, human health, species extinction, and whether biodiversity loss is a crime against nature.

Further Reading


Capon, Samantha J., Lynda E. Chambers, Ralph Mac Nally, Robert J. Naiman, Peter Davies, Nadine Marshall, Jamie Pittock et al. (2013). “Riparian Ecosystems in the 21st Century: Hotspots for Climate Change Adaptation?.” Ecosystems 16, 3: 359-381.

Cunningham, Andrew A., Andrew P. Dobson, and Peter J. Hudson. (2012). “Disease invasion: impacts on biodiversity and human health.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 367, 1604: 2804-2806.

Felton, Adam, Matts Lindbladh, Jörg Brunet, and Örjan Fritz. (2010. “Replacing coniferous monocultures with mixed-species production stands: An assessment of the potential benefits for forest biodiversity in northern Europe.” Forest ecology and management 260, 6: 939-947.

Krauss, Jochen, Riccardo Bommarco, Moisès Guardiola, Risto K. Heikkinen, Aveliina Helm, Mikko Kuussaari, Regina Lindborg et al. (2010). “Habitat fragmentation causes immediate and time‐delayed biodiversity loss at different trophic levels.” Ecology Letters 13, 5: 597-605.

Pawson, S. M., A. Brin, E. G. Brockerhoff, D. Lamb, T. W. Payn, A. Paquette, and J. A. Parrotta. (2013). “Plantation forests, climate change and biodiversity.” Biodiversity and conservation 22, 5: 1203-1227.

Walters, Reece. (2006). “Crime, bio-agriculture and the exploitation of hunger.” British Journal of Criminology 46, 1: 26-45.

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