The Biodiversity Crisis: A Grand Challenge for the 21st Century

Biodiversity refers to the extraordinary variation of life on Earth. Today we recognize that the remarkable diversity of species and environments in our natural world is declining rapidly as the human population expands and landscapes are modified. This accelerating loss of biodiversity has been termed the “Biodiversity Crisis” and is one of the leading environmental and social issues of the 21st century.  Although natural biological diversity is fundamentally important to a healthy and sustainable planet, the connections between biodiversity and ecosystem services – from the flow of fresh water to the pollination of crop plants – remain poorly understood. Ecological economists note the effect of invasive species (more than $120 billion annually in the US alone!) and have begun to place economic value on ecosystem services. Global responses to the Crisis suffer from insufficient information and inadequate policies for sustainable use of natural resources.

Insufficient information and policies are in part due to the slow rate at which biodiversity data are gathered, and the difficulty in accessing the information once it is available. These problems create a situation in which much of the diversity of our planet is likely to disappear before it can be discovered and understood. Principal among its underlying causes is the inadequate infrastructure supporting biodiversity research. The Biodiversity Crisis creates both the necessity and the opportunity for a new type of response.

The interdisciplinary University of Florida Biodiversity Institute is accelerating synthetic research on biological diversity. This is being accomplished through integrative Big Data solutions that serve stakeholders in Florida and beyond through efforts to understand and manage biodiversity, develop relevant conservation, educational, and outreach programs, and shape policy to protect and enhance environmental capital.