In our biosphere immense diversity (or heterogeneity) exists not only at the species level but at all levels of biological organisation ranging from macromolecules within cells to biomes. Biodiversity is the term popularised by the sociobiologist Edward Wilson to describe the combined diversity at all the levels of biological organisation. The most important of them are–
- Genetic diversity: A single species might show high diversity at the genetic level over its distributional range. The genetic variation shown by the medicinal plant Rauwolfia vomitoria growing in different Himalayan ranges might be in terms of the potency and concentration of the active chemical (reserpine) that the plant produces. India has more than 50,000 genetically different strains of rice, and 1,000 varieties of mango.
- Species diversity: The diversity at the species level. For example, the Western Ghats have a greater amphibian species diversity than the Eastern Ghats.
- Ecological diversity: At the ecosystem level, India, for instance, with its deserts, rain forests, mangroves, coral reefs, wetlands, estuaries, and alpine meadows has a greater ecosystem diversity than a Scandinavian country like Norway.
It has taken millions of years of evolution, to accumulate this rich diversity in nature, but we could lose all that wealth in less than two centuries if the present rates of species losses continue. Biodiversity and its conservation are now vital environmental issues of international concern as more and more people around the world begin to realise the critical importance of biodiversity for our survival and well- being on this planet.