SREL Reprint #2717




A Changing Balance

J. Whitfield Gibbons and Karen L. McGlothlin

Introduction: The field of ecology is a subdiscipline of biology devoted to the investigation of the species distribution and species abundance of organisms within the environment and the relationship between those organisms and their surroundings. To most scientists engaged in ecological research that is directly applicable to environmental problems, the loss of biological diversity, or biodiversity, is the single most pervasive theme driving their investigations.
When one thinks about the term "biodiversity," it is easy to restrict those thoughts to the total number of species of plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, and other microorganisms in the environment. This, however, is an inaccurate representation of the entire picture that is biodiversity. The term "biodiversity" was coined in a chapter written by marine and forest conservation biologist Elliott Norse and included in a 1980 government report (Pimm 2001). The term has been commonly used to describe a concept that includes diversity on three levels. The most inclusive livel includes ecosystem, which are communities of living organisms and the nonliving environment they inhabit. The second level includes species, which are groups of interbreeding or potentially interbreeding organisms found in ecosystems. Diversity can also be observed and quantified on a third level: the molecular. Biodiversity at this level is described in terms of genes, which are segments of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), or the units of hereditary material passed from generation to generation. At this level, biological diversity is represented by the numerous genetic variations among members of even a single species (Wilson 2002). . .

SREL Reprint #2717

Gibbons, J. W. and K. L. McGlothlin. 2003. A Changing Balance: An Ecological Perspective on the Loss of Biodiversity. pp. 29-54 In: S. L. Spray and K. L. McGlothlin (Eds.). Loss of Biodiversity: Exploring Environmental Challenges - A Multidisciplinary Approach. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

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