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Changing Planet

How much do we know about the life on our Changing Planet?

How many different types of animal, plants, bacteria and fungi are there? And where did they come from? 

Scientists, over many years, have tried to organise and count the number of species and estimates range from 3 million to 30 million.  So, why is it so hard to work this out? 

In these pages and links you can find out more about the world around us, how it has changed in the past and what might happen in the future.

What is Biodiversity and why does it matter?

Biodiversity describes the variety of life on earth. 'Biodiversity is the variation of life forms within a given ecosystem, biome or for the entire Earth. The biodiversity found on Earth today consists of many millions of distinct biological species, which is the product of nearly 3.5 billion years of evolution'. (Wikipedia) 

The first person to use the word biodiversity was Walter. G. Rosen, an American botanist who organised a National Forum on Biological Diversity in 1985. It combines the words biological diversity into one word 'biodiversity'. The word was first published by the American biologist Edward O Wilson in 1988 when it was used as the title to the report of the National Forum on Biological Diversity.

Without a good understanding of all the species that inhabit the earth it is difficult to understand the causes of biological diversity and the likely consequences of a reduction in biodiversity. Does it matter if we lose 25% of all mammal species? Does it matter if we lose 25% of insect species? Does it matter if we lose the mammals species more than if we lose the insect species? Does it matter if there aren't so many plants and animals? Almost every animal or plant, no matter how small, has a part to play in maintaining our environment.

One reason for valuing biological diversity is that food, medicines and clothes are derived from natural products. 25% of medicines on Pharmacy shelves in Europe and America come from 120 species of plants. But throughout the world the traditional medicines of native peoples makes use of around 25,000 species of plants. The interactions between biological and physical processes maintain the earth's biosphere as a place where life can flourish. With impending changes in climate caused by the increasing scale of human activity there is good reason to be worried about reductions in biological diversity. Another reason is the ethical imperative of stewardship...we have a moral duty to look after our planet and hand it on in good order to future generations.

What do you think? Explore these pages and resources to find out more.

Changing Planet Resources and Home Experiments

As part of the Changing Planet project our curators have produced a number of resources exploring the themes of biodiversity and sustainability.

You can watch videos connected to our Changing Planet project in our Changing Planet Playlist on YouTube.

You can check out images fom the collection the Changing Planet Group Flickr Slideshow.

Or you can go to our Changing Planet downloads page to access information and activity sheets.

Check out Johan Oldekop's Mad As A Scientist Blog focusing on photography, science & the environment.


"Biodiversity is the variation of life forms within a given ecosystem, biome or for the entire Earth."

Wikipedia, 2008

Changing Planet

Image of an insect in amber

Use the objects in our collection to explore the Changing Planet.