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Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Diversity of Life

01Rb7W5EyzlWorried about climate change? Sure. But unfortunately it's not the only way humans are changing the life-support systems of our planet. Biodiversity - the net of genes, species and ecosystems - itself is in danger: Since 1970 we've lost 40% of species abundance, endangered every fourth mammal and driven two thirds of ecosystem services into decline.

Wait - but don't we have more species than we can handle? Yes and no: While scientist have only named 1.8 mio of the up to 100 mio species on this planet, these unknown organisms are still crucial parts of the web of life. Most of them are tiny insects, algae or bacteria: Hard to find, even harder to distinguish and not at all part of the 'charismatic megafauna' that conservationists so cherish.

In his book 'The Diversity of Life', E.O. Wilson, the celebrity biologist from the US, describes how this diversity came about, how extinctions change entire ecosystems and what threats biodiversity faces. A scientist, his mission is to catalogue and assemble all existing knowledge on species in one 'encyclopedia of life'. This year's TED conference granted him this wish.

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