A Beginner's Guide (revised and updated edition)

Our future is closely tied to that of the variety of life on Earth, and yet there is no greater threat to it than us. From population explosions and habitat destruction to climate change and mass extinctions, John Spicer explores the causes and consequences of our biodiversity crisis. Les mer
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Our future is closely tied to that of the variety of life on Earth, and yet there is no greater threat to it than us. From population explosions and habitat destruction to climate change and mass extinctions, John Spicer explores the causes and consequences of our biodiversity crisis. In this revised and updated edition, he examines how grave the situation has become over the past decade and outlines what we must do now to protect and preserve not just nature's wonders but the essential services that biodiversity provides for us, seemingly for nothing.



1 The pandemic of wounded biodiversity

Biodiversity - what was that again?

A long, leisurely trip to La Jolla


2 Teeming boisterous life

The big picture

The volleyball on Mission Beach

'A rose by any other name'...what's a species?

Morphological species

Identifying species without ever seeing them

Biological species

Evolutionary species

Naming species

How many living species...and what are they?

1) To the nearest approximation (almost) every organism is an arthropod...?

2) Greenery: The Plantae

3) Fungi: Mushrooms, moulds and yeasts - The Fungi

4) Mollusca: Shell life

5) Chordata: Animals with backbones...mostly

6) Protozoa or Protista?

7) Nematoda: The roundworm that's the fly in the ointment?

8) Bacteria and Archaea: Microbial life

Remaining animal groupings

Viruses: All the world's a phage... or nearly

New species

Planting and growing the 'tree of life'

The great chain of being

Linnaeus's hierarchical classification

Influence of evolutionary ideas

Chatton's two-domain idea

Whittaker's five-kingdom approach

Woese and the three-domain model

A new twist to the three-domain model

...and when is a tree a bush?

Designs on life

The phylum and the Bauplan

Most phyla are not very species rich

An unequal distribution of life

3 Where on Earth is biodiversity?

From Berkeley, south to the Sea of Cortez

More is more

Back to Bird Rock

The species-area relationship

Those who go down to the sea in ships

Hotspots: A tale of two definitions

Big-scale biodiversity: Biogeographical and political regions

On land


Biodiversity by country

Latitude for life?

The land

The sea

Genetic diversity and latitude

Why is there a latitudinal gradient?


Lessons from the tops of Scottish mountains

Biodiversity takes the hump with altitude

Mountains as islands?

Aerial plankton and organisms in flight


The short-lived azoic theory

Out of our depth

A journey to the centre of the Earth

Staying close to home

Congruence: The holy grail of diversity?

4 A world that was old when we came into it: Diversity, deep time and extinction

One every twenty minutes?

A life in the year of...

Precambrian - before life?

A schoolgirl changes our understanding of life before life - but no one believes her

The garden of Ediacara

A world of chemical energy, not driven by sunlight?

How familiar is the Ediacaran fauna?

Explosive Cambrian

Cambrian forms

Archaeocyatha: The only extinct phylum?

Why diversify now?

Cambrian explosion or short fuse?

Cambrian biodiversity: Good designs... or just lucky?

How a small quarry in British Columbia changed our understanding of biodiversity

'It's a Wonderful Life'

To conclude

Post-Cambrian: Tinkering with successful designs?

Palaeozoic - 'first life'

Middle and modern life

The present - not set in stone

Beginnings of evolution: The origin of species

End of evolution: Extinction

The 'big five'

Causes of extinction

Extinctions as routine events in the history of life

Early humans and biodiversity

Extinctions post-1600s

Proving extinction?

The Red Data Book

Other takes on extinction

To conclude

5 Swept away and changed

Threatening behaviour

Living beyond our means

Top five direct (or proximate) causes of biodiversity loss

1) Habitat loss and degradation

2) Direct exploitation

Home economics

Food, glorious food

Industrial materials

Medicine sans frontiers


Controlling the natural world

3) Climate change

4) Introduced species

The domino effect: Extinction cascades

Some light relief: Complete elimination of biodiversity by extraterrestrial means

The ultimate cause of biodiversity loss: You and me

Once upon a time there were two look how many

Not just population size but where people live

Not just population size but what people do

It's the poor that do the suffering

To conclude

6 Are the most beautiful things the most useless?

'...and for everything else there's Mastercard'

Costing a small planet

Use now, pay when?

What bees do for free is expensive

Costing the Earth - literally

How Biosphere 1 works - as one

Earth, the Goldilocks planet - just right

Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis

Critiques of Gaia

How bits of Biosphere 1 work

Build your own biosphere: Not-so-silent running

The home marine aquarium

Mysteries and hazards

Valuable for what, and to whom?

Keeping options open

Bequest and bequeathal

Full-on philosophers and laid-back religion?

Value bestowed, not intrinsic

Intrinsic value

Valued as an object of worship or through kinship

A creator gives biodiversity value

To conclude

7 Our greatest hazard and our only hope?

Saving private land


Oh, Rio

Large brushstrokes

Louder than words

Arks in parks

Out of place - but alive

Buzzword for the twenty-first century

Responses to Rio

Millennium Assessment

Aichi (2010) and 'Pathway for Humanity' (2015)

Strategic plan for biodiversity and Aichi biodiversity targets

'Pathway for Humanity': UN Sustainable Development Goals (2015)

Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (2019)


Target 11: Increasing protected areas

Goal 16: Nagoya protocol in force

Sustainability goals

No room for the individual?


8 No one is too small to make a difference

Going further: Suggestions for wider reading


Om forfatteren

John Spicer is Professor of Marine Zoology at the University of Plymouth. He is co-author of the bestselling textbooks Biodiversity: An Introduction and The Invertebrates.