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What is biodiversity, why does it matter, and how is it impacted by climate change?

Biodiversity, or biological diversity,describes the variety of life on Earth. When studying this diversity, scientists look at the number of species, the genetic diversity of each species, and the many different ecosystems that these species inhabit.

Earth’s ecosystems rely on the diversity of life to sustain themselves. Even humans rely on the rest of life on earth. Our food systems rely on animals to pollinate our crops and invertebrates keep our crop field’s soil healthy. Native predators like bats, insects, and foxes help keep crop pests at manageable levels.

Trees and other plants have many benefits to urban areas, including reducing runoff, boosting human mental health, cooling heat islands, and providing habitat for wildlife.

Many medicines have their roots in nature, and scientists are still discovering new compounds to treat illness and disease.

As climate changes, so do the habitats that plants and animals call home. Climate change impacts rainfall patterns, growing seasons, and temperature patterns. Plants and animals that have adapted to a certain climate are then forced to adapt to new conditions. Sometimes these plants and animals are able to do so, and sometimes not. Often when one plant or animal species cannot adjust, it has a domino effect through the ecosystem and creates challenges for the whole system.

What is the Cayuga Basin and why use it as an example of biodiversity?

The Cayuga Lake Basin is 785 square miles of land where rainfall drains into Cayuga Lake. Cayuga Lake is 38 miles long, reaches depths of 435 feet, and covers almost 43,000 acres. It is the second largest of Central New York’s 11 Finger Lakes and among the 40 deepest lakes in the US.

Here in Central New York where the Paleontological Research Institution is based, we’re very familiar with the Cayuga Lake Basin. We live here and every day are able to observe and learn more about the ecosystem. It’s something we know well, and so it is easy for us to discuss!

How many species exist today?

Between 1.2 million and 1.7 million species of complex organisms (eukaryotes) have been described by scientists over the past 250 years. Scientists think that between 5 million and 10 million species may exist on Earth today. Most scientists think that many of these species are currently in danger of extinction because of human activity.

Take Action!

There are many ways that we can help preserve biodiversity in the Cayuga Lake Region and beyond. While we do this, it’s still important to record and learn about the diversity of life that lives here now!

It’s important to have observation data for many different types of research. Scientists can utilize sites like iNaturalist for their research. Anyone with access to a camera and internet connection can photograph their observations and upload them onto the platform.


Since the SIPS 2017 Bioblitz, PRI has wanted to continue collecting biodiversity data across our venues. In Spring 2020 when we were all looking for ways to get outdoors and stay safe we launched our fully virtual Bioblitz utilizing the iNaturalist platform. Now occurring once a season, we continue to both as a staff and a community collect biodiversity data not just on our sites, but across the eastern finger lakes region.

These data collection events provide snapshots of the biodiversity of life in our region, important records as human activity is changing the climate, ecosystems, and wildlife habitats.

More about PRI BioBlitzes

Online Exhibits

Check out these online exhibits for more biodiversity-related info!

Six-Legged Science: Unlocking the Secrets of the Insect World

Six-Legged Science: Unlocking the Secrets of the Insect World

Conservation Paleobiology: Putting the Dead to Work

Conservation Paleobiology: Putting the Dead to Work

Changing Climate: Our Future, Our Choice

Changing Climate: Our Future, Our Choice

Bees! Diversity, Evolution, Conservation

Bees! Diversity, Evolution, Conservation

Animal Ambassadors of the Cayuga Nature Center

Animal Ambassadors of the Cayuga Nature Center

Additional Links

Number of species on Earth tagged at 8.7 million | Nature

What is biodiversity and why does its loss matter? | The Natural History Museum, London

What Is Biodiversity? | National Museum of Natural History