All species interconnected

By Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

Ring-tailed Lemurs by Molly HagemannBernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

Biodiversity is the term we use to refer to the variety of life on Earth. It includes all the plants and animals many of us are familiar with, like giant redwood trees and panda bears, as well as the organisms we don’t know much about, like bacteria, fungi, and invertebrates.

Study for "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte" (1884) by Georges SeuratThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

The human species is part of that fabric of biodiversity. Although our use of language and technology engenders a sense of humans as separate and superior to other forms of life, we are more intimately integrated with the natural world than we often perceive. 

Microscopic Algae Called Phytoplankton by NOAA MESA ProjectOriginal Source: NOAA MESA Project

We are just one of approximately 8.7 million species on this Earth that all depend on each other for survival. For example, microscopic algae in the ocean provide half of all the oxygen in the air we breathe.

Honey Bee by Molly HagemannBernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

And thousands of pollinators, including honey bees, birds, and bats are responsible for the successful reproduction of the plants we use for food, shelter, and medicine.

Globular marine sponge Cinachyra sp. From Kamiali, Papua New Guinea (Photo Credit: Holly Bolick) and Earth image (Photo Credit: Pauahi Bishop Museum

It can be helpful to think of life on Earth as operating like one planet-sized colonial superorganism, with different species fulfilling different ecological roles. In order for this superorganism to thrive, individual species — including humans — must function in balance with one another.

Shallow Coral Reef Ecosystem, Papua New Guinea by Holly BolickBernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

How much biodiversity does the planet need in order to remain healthy? Since we have yet to discover all the species that exist today, or even fully understand the complex interactions between species that have already been described, the wise answer to that question is as much as possible.

Maui nukupuʻu, extinct by Jeremy SnellBernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

Conservation researchers Paul and Anne Ehrlich suggested that species to an ecosystem are like rivets to an airplane’s wing. Losing one or two might not cause a catastrophe, but each loss makes that possibility more likely.

Marine Debris Program Yearly Cleanup of Northwestern Hawaiian Islands by NOAABernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

As inhabitants of this planet we affect biodiversity with the choices we make every day. So, it is incumbent on all of us to consider how we can use our voice and our actions to shape the future of Earth’s biodiversity.

Tosanoides obama by Richard PyleBernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

What are we doing to preserve biodiversity?

Tosanoides obama by Richard PyleBernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

A good first step is trying to understand just how much biodiversity exists through documenting and naming new species. It is a daunting task, but certainly worthwhile.

Dr. Sylvia Earle presenting former president Barack Obama with new species of fish named after him (2016) by Brian SkerryBernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

A comprehensive inventory can give government officials and other decision makers the tools they need to protect and manage natural resources. 

Vertebrate Zoology Dry Room Storage by Jeremy SnellBernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

Natural history museums play a critical role in documenting biodiversity by creating collections that serve as "libraries of life". The specimens within these collections are a record of Earth's life forms and the processes that change these forms over time.

By studying specimens collected at different points in time, scientists can reconstruct historical diversification and forecast future changes.

ʻŌhiʻa lehua Flower by Molly HagemannBernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

There are efforts at natural history museums and other scientific institutions across the globe to generate an all-inclusive catalog of the planet’s biodiversity.

Anna’s Hummingbird by Molly HagemannBernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

Ghost Crab by Molly HagemannBernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

And national thematic collections networks (TCNs), part of the massive effort to digitize the nation's biological collections, include:

- DigIn
Pacific Island Land SnailBiodiversity Repository
- Parasite Tracker
Pteridophyte Collections Consortium

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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