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What Is Biodiversity?

In the life sciences, there is wide-ranging debate about biodiversity. While nearly everyone is in favor of biodiversity and its conservation, methods for its assessment vary enormously. So what exactly is biodiversity? Most theoretical work on the subject assumes it has something to do with species richness—with the number of species in a particular region—but in reality, it is much more than that. Arguing that we cannot make rational decisions about what it is to be protected without knowing what biodiversity is, James Maclaurin and Kim Sterelny offer in What Is Biodiversity? a theoretical and conceptual exploration of the biological world and how diversity is valued.
Here, Maclaurin and Sterelny explore not only the origins of the concept of biodiversity, but also how that concept has been shaped by ecology and more recently by conservation biology. They explain the different types of biodiversity important in evolutionary theory, developmental biology, ecology, morphology and taxonomy and conclude that biological heritage is rich in not just one biodiversity but many. Maclaurin and Sterelny also explore the case for the conservation of these biodiversities using option value theory, a tool borrowed from economics.
            An erudite, provocative, timely, and creative attempt to answer a fundamental question, What Is Biodiversity? will become a foundational text in the life sciences and studies thereof.

224 pages | 14 halftones, 19 line drawings, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Biological Sciences: Biology--Systematics, Conservation, Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, Natural History

Earth Sciences: Environment

Geography: Environmental Geography

Philosophy: Ethics

Philosophy of Science


"This monograph would make an excellent supplemental reading for undergraduate courses in ecology, conservation biology, and philosophy of biology or a primary resource for a class on biodiversity."


"Overall, [the authors] have produced an interesting review and a coherent argument. Their work will be of interest to those involved in conservation planning and management, environmental policy, ecological and evolutionary theory, and the philosophy of biological science. . . . Their work underlines that extension of conservation biology by integration of ecological and evolutionary theory is an exciting, advancing field."

A. Jasmyn J. Lynch | Austral Ecology

"A valuable theoretical contribution to debates surrounding the conservation of biological diversity. By explaining the diversity of diversities and its relevance for conservation purposes, [the authors] correct the widespread illusion that the conservation of species is an easily tractable and objective aim of conservation."

Uta Esser | International Studies in the Philosophy of Science

"This book often clears a path through much of the related theoretical undergrowth, fearlessly criticising the theories of all-comers, Dawkins, Gould and Lewontin among them."

Robin Attfield | Philosophy

"Most biologists think they know what biodiversity is. What is biodiversity? challenges this complacency. This [book] should inform conservation efforts at a time when the loss of species is accelerating."

Dai Roberts | Biologist

Table of Contents

1   Taxonomy Red in Tooth and Claw    
1.1  Biodiversity and “Biodiversity”
1.2  Biodiversity and Biodiversities
1.3  History and Taxonomy
1.4  Diversity as Cause; Diversity as Effect
1.5  Prospectus: The Road Ahead
2   Species: A Modest Proposal    
2.1  Introduction
2.2  Species, Species Concepts, and Speciation
2. 3  The Effect of Speciation
2.4  Species and Biodiversity
3   Disparity and Diversity    
3.1  The Cone of Increasing Controversy
3.2  How Disparate Was the Cambrian Fauna?
3.3  Fossils in a Molecular World
4   Morphology and Morphological Diversity    
4.1  Introduction
4.2  Morphological Diversity
4.3  Biological Possibility Spaces
4.4  The Power of Morphospaces
4.5  Here There Be No Dragons: The Limits of Theoretical Morphology
4.6  Morphological Biodiversity
5   Development and Diversity    
5.1  Diversity, Disparity, Plasticity
5.2  The Variety of Developmental Resources
5.3  From Gene Regulation to Modularity
5.4  Modularity in Development and Evolution
5.5  Developmental Biodiversity
6   Explorations in Ecospace    
6.1  Ecological Systems
6.2  Communities, Ecosystems, and Ecosystem Functions
6.3  Individualism and Community Regulation
6.4  The Emergent Property Hypothesis
6.5  Boundaries
6.6  The Space of Population Assemblages
7   Conservation Biology: The Measurement Problem    
7.1  Introduction
7.2  Counting Taxa
7.3  Measuring Phylogenetic Diversity
7.4  Measuring Genetic Diversity
7.5  Biodiversity Surrogates
8   Conservation Biology: The Evaluation Problem    
8.1  Value
8.2  Is Biodiversity Intrinsically Valuable?
8.3  Demand Value
8.4  The Option Value Option
8.5  Applying Option Value: Case 1, Phylogeny
8.6  Applying Option Value: Case 2, Bioprospecting
8.7  Applying Option Value: Case 3, Ecological Option Value
8.8  The Conservation Consequences of Option Value Models
9   Concluding Remarks    
9.1  Introduction: The Temptations of a Unified Measure
9.2  The Variety of Diversities
9.3  Should We Conserve Species?


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