A Simple Guide on How to Measure Biodiversity

The science of conservation biology is in an exciting period, and you can see this if you notice the interest that people have in biodiversity. Dramatic changes in conservation priorities in the last one-decade points to the fact that the field is under constant development. The crucial variations are helping to determine the future of biodiversity and humanity.

What is Biodiversity?

This term ‘biodiversity’ refers to the variety of different life forms within a particular ecosystem. You can measure this at different levels. At the largest scale, you can consider different species on the entire earth. On the other hand, you can study it on a much smaller scale, such as within a pond ecosystem or neighborhood park.

 If you consider the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), for example, you will notice that it is gathering and studying lots of research data about Australian plants, animals, microorganism, and more with the view to make it easy to analyze biodiversity data at the local level. You can find the information they have distributed in the countless database, specimen catalogs, and websites and use them to make important decisions on conservation. ALA is using some of the advanced methods to measure biodiversity so as to mitigate the risks of inaccuracy.

How is Biodiversity Measured?

There are plenty of ways to measure biodiversity. Read on to find the most important ones in each of the two levels.

  • Genetics Level

When appropriate, researchers count the frequency at which different genetic patterns occur by mapping the genes and chromosomes of different life forms. Certain biological factors determine the color, height, and behavior of different animals. When a scientist considers these variations by counting the genetic patterns, they are able to measure biodiversity accurately. 

Alternatively, they evaluate the physical appearances. This method of mapping works in reverse as the first one. In this case, experts do not focus on the genes and chromosomes of different animals and plants. Instead, they study the variations in physical appearances and then attribute the outcome to the most probable genetics causes.

Remember, most scientists consider measuring biodiversity at the genetic level the most reliable method. These measurements are efficient for examining managed populations or agricultural crops. As such, you can use them when you want to practice selective breeding or plants crops with particular characteristics.

  • Ecosystem Level

You can also measure biodiversity at the ecosystem level if you want to evaluate the health of the entire ecosystem. The results are used to compare the health of two or more ecosystems.

Researchers often pick sample plots and count all the species in these places. They rely on a number of factors, including the size of the ecosystem and the physical characteristics of the targeted life forms to determine the desired sample size. Alternatively, they only measure keystone species.

What are Spatial Scales of Measuring Biodiversity?

When measuring biodiversity at the genetic level, Alpha-diversity is required. This common method incorporates the estimates of ‘richness.’ This involves counting the number of different species using a number of indices.

One of them is The Simpson Index, which considers the number of the species as well as their relative abundance to the entire population of the ecosystem. The other option is The Shannon Index, which always factors in the order of species within a sample plot. You can use any of them to establish the pattern of the distribution of different species.

At the ecosystem level, beta-diversity is used to describe changes in biodiversity. It helps to show the variations in the richness of different species within an ecosystem. Gamma-diversity is another way researchers use to measure biodiversity. In particular, they rely on it to find the total biodiversity.

The Bottom Line

Whether you want to measure diversity on the genetics or ecosystem level, the entire process may appear too involving. However, it is worth it. These numbers are important for determining the right strategies to protect and preserve an ecosystem. When you are able to quantify what you want to conserve, you will be able to plan and manage the entire process well. As such, if you want to measure biodiversity, use the right methods, and express the results at the different scales correctly to be able to achieve your conservation goals.

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