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But precise answers are seldom needed to devise an effective understanding of where biodiversity is, how it is changing over space and time, the drivers responsible for such change, the consequences of such change for ecosystem services and human well-being, and the response options available.
Even among the larger and more mobile species, such as terrestrial vertebrates, more than one third of all species have ranges of less than 1,000 square kilometers.
In contrast, local and regional diversity of microorganisms tends to be more similar to large-scale and global diversity because of their large population size, greater dispersal, larger range sizes, and lower levels of regional species clustering ( Biomes and biogeographic realms provide broad pictures of the distribution of functional diversity.
This layer of living organisms—the biosphere—through the collective metabolic activities of its innumerable plants, animals, and microbes physically and chemically unites the atmosphere, geosphere, and hydrosphere into one environmental system within which millions of species, including humans, have thrived.
Breathable air, potable water, fertile soils, productive lands, bountiful seas, the equitable climate of Earth’s recent history, and other ecosystem services (see ) are manifestations of the workings of life.
Defining Biodiversity Biodiversity is defined as “the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.” The importance of this definition is that it draws attention to the many dimensions of biodiversity.
It explicitly recognizes that every biota can be characterized by its taxonomic, ecological, and genetic diversity and that the way these dimensions of diversity vary over space and time is a key feature of biodiversity.
Biogeographic principles (such as gradients in species richness associated with latitude, temperature, salinity, and water depth) or the use of indicators can supplement available biotic inventories.
Global and sub-global maps of species richness, several of which are provided in the MA reports Current State and Trends and Scenarios, provide valuable pictures of the distribution of biodiversity ().
In a similar manner, economic indicators such as GDP are highly influential and well understood by decision-makers.
Some environmental indicators, such as global mean temperature and atmospheric CO concentrations, are becoming widely accepted as measures of anthropogenic effects on global climate.