The study of biological diversity has a considerable legacy in ecology and geography. The concept refers generally to the sum total of all genes, species, and ecosystems in a particular region. How many bird species occur in a particular area, for example, and how does this feature change in response to evapotranspiration or latitude? The term biodiversity, a contraction of “biological diversity,” did not appear until the 1980s and was a response to increasing scientific concern with ecosystem degradation and the species extinction crisis. Biodiversity as a field of interest thus has come to encompass not only understanding species numbers and patterns but also ecological interactions, conservation status, and relevant management strategies.

The question of how many species exist on Earth has long intrigued scientists. ...

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