What is Biodiversity?
This first module of the course focuses on the foundations of biodiversity and the science surrounding it. The first two video lectures cover what we mean by the term "biodiversity", overview the vast diversity of organisms that inhabit the Earth, and put this diversity into the context of the "tree of life", thereby recognising the evolutionary relationships among organisms as a fundamental component of biodiversity. The next video lecture outlines what is the relatively new field "Biodiversity Science", and suggests thinking of biodiversity science in terms of questions about patterns, processes, and consequences, and relationships among these. The final four video lectures, each presented by a different expert working at the University of Zurich, survey some of the key facets of biodiversity: taxonomic, genetic, functional, metabolic, behavioural, and interactions. Assignments for this module include the End-of-Module-Assessment.
Evolution and Classification of Biodiversity
Evolution is the process by which all the amazing biodiversity on Earth arose from a single species. This module will give you an overview of what is evolution, how it works, and the importance of sex (a key contributor to diversification via evolution). You will learn how to read evolutionary trees (phylogenies) and about one of the most fundamental aspects of biodiversity science: naming and classifying organisms (naming conventions, classification systems, and their relationship with evolution).
Biodiversity in Your Lives
You just spent two weeks watching video lectures and answering quizzes. This week / module is different, and gets you "hands-on" with some of the biodiversity in your lives. Specifically, you will learn about "dietary diversity": the diversity of organisms that people eat, about why dietary diversity is important, why it might vary globally, and most exciting of all, you will record and explore your own dietary diversity, in a Peer Assignment. Because the Peer Assignment will take some time, there are relatively fewer video lectures. (The Peer Assignment is mandatory and is assessed. There is no other method of assessment in this module.)
Biodiversity in Space and Time
Biodiversity varies greatly through space and time, and information about this variation is one of the most important ingredients of biodiversity science. The first part of the module concerns how we can discover where species are located, and hence create knowledge about the spatial and temporal distribution of biodiversity. You then learn about some of the fascinating and often puzzling ways in which biodiversity is distributed across the Earth.
Importance of Biodiversity
This modules concerns thinking and ideas about the importance of biodiversity. One way to think about the importance of biodiversity is to consider and document its values, for example the vast array of products that are derived from organisms. A recent development has been to think about the "services" provided by biodiversity. As well as learn about "ecosystem services", you will hear about why some people think the concept not very useful, and perhaps even dangerous. In the second set of video lectures, you will learn about how biodiversity scientists have gone about discovering if, when, and why more biodiversity might be a better thing.
Threats to Biodiversity
The history of biodiversity on Earth is full of extinctions of species, and indeed at least five mass extinctions. And yet there is great concern, based on considerable evidence, that effects of humans on the Earth, from small to global scales, is threatening biodiversity. You will learn about the historical context in which contemporary changes in biodiversity and global environments need to be considered. You will hear about some of the current threats being studied by researchers at the University of Zurich. In the final of the three parts of this module, you will learn about what the future may hold in store for biodiversity, and why predicting this future is so fascinating, so difficult, and so important.
Given the importance of biodiversity, and the threats it currently faces, there is considerable ongoing effort to help biodiversity. You will learn about conservation ethics, organisations, and treaties, and about the relationships between business and conservation of biodiversity. The second section of the module concerns conservation in action, covering single species and ecosystem conservation, and including the critical role of natural historians and museum collections of organisms for conservation biology, and more broadly for biodiversity science.
Be a Biodiversity Ambassador
The final module of course focuses on the action that you can take to help biodiversity. That is, how you can be a Biodiversity Ambassador. The first video covers the many things that people and organisations are doing to help, conserve, and protect biodiversity. The second lecture encourages you into action, particularly by doing what biodiversity cannot do: speak and stick up for itself. Biodiversity does not have a voice of its own; it needs Biodiversity Ambassadors -- people who will speak on it's behalf.
The course concludes with its most important assignment (a peer assignment) for which you will prepare a short statement / presentation about how you will aim to be a Biodiversity Ambassador.