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close this bookDiversity, Globalization, and the Ways of Nature (IDRC, 1995, 234 p.)
close this folder13. Diversity and human survival
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentDocumenting diversity
View the documentResources for the future
View the documentDiversity of living systems
View the documentCauses and effects of the loss of natural diversity
View the documentDiversity and culture
View the documentRestoring what is lost
View the documentBiodiversity and research

Diversity of living systems

Diversity is the main resource of life. The future of living systems is a result of multiple current options. Diversity provides flexibility. It ensures that, even if some roads are blocked here and there, there will be alternative ways for life to continue. Uniformity is anti-life. Uniformity imparts vulnerability by not allowing other options. It can only be sustained with great investment and effort and, in the end, leads to extinction. Diversity is life; uniformity is death.

Living systems base their survival on continuous, selective adjustments resulting from small biological variations, genetic mutation, changes in relations in their ecosystems, and the behaviour of species, societies, and individuals. Living systems evolve in a subtly coordinated, dynamic equilibrium among thousands of diverse organisms with diverse functions that ensure the sustainability of the systems.

The elimination or modification of any component of a living system, inorganic or organic, produces changes that require a general readjustment of the system. In practice, it is difficult to know what changes will take place when one species disappears or a physical component varies; however, we do know for certain that changes will occur. Change is intrinsic to all processes and systems.

Because of the complexity of natural ecosystems, it is practically impossible to inventory all their components and still more difficult to define precisely their relations. However, although we do not know exactly how any system works, we can safely state that the strength and stability of any living system depends on the depth of its diversities and on its degree of diversity. Depth of diversity is the history that generated and allowed the development of the system’s diversities, and degree of diversity is the level of differentiation or dissimilarity developed by a given system compared with others, both locally and globally. The natural tendency of local systems is to maintain their degree of diversity and to increase their depth or historical richness.