Published: 04.01.10


A new term for biological variety appeared in the biologist’s vocabulary during the mid-1980s: “biodiversity”. It was coined by American evolutionary biologist Eduard O. Wilson, who popularized it beyond the bounds of the field. This eventually included politics. In 1992, representatives from over 160 states signed the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) in Rio de Janeiro, committing themselves amongst other things to curbing the loss of biological diversity. Nearly 20 years on, the UN has now declared 2010 the Year of Biodiversity and is thus looking to set an example. After all, biological diversity is more under threat than ever. The CBD has not been able to change anything, either. Genes, species and habitats – the three pillars of the concept of biological diversity – are disappearing at a breathtaking rate after millions of years of successful existence. The chief culprit is mankind and his method of land use. Consequently, ETH Life will be devoting its attention to biodiversity this year, presenting some background knowledge and the latest from biodiversity research at ETH Zurich at regular intervals in this dossier.

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The Swiss wanted to rear cattle in Tanzania and in so doing completely disturbed the ecosystem: the example of the Mkwaja Ranch shows how dependant agriculture is on a functioning ecosystem. And what a serious effect its encroachment can have on a sensitive balance. Marion Eberhard, 14.04.10
ETH-Zurich researcher Valentin Queloz describes the species of fungus responsible for the ash dieback recently observed in Switzerland as a “familiar stranger”. However, researchers still don’t know why a harmless leaf colonizer could turn into an aggressive pathogen. Peter Rüegg, 07.04.10
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