Grade level: High School, College

Subject area: Multidisciplinary, Biology, Social Sciences

Classroom Resources/Materials Needed: Computers with access to the World Wide Web using a browser like Netscape, Explorer, Mosaic, etc., and an inkjet or laser printer.

Abstract: This unit introduces biological diversity and the importance of international environmental treaties in sustainable living. Students will: experience the decision-making process involved in the development and implementation of environmental conventions; develop ecological literacy; and, see the need for science in consideration of global environmental issues. Teachers will access an online biodiversity module that provides an overview, glossary, facts, activities, additional resources, "hands-on" exercises, and "minds-on" discussion topics.

Students will:

  1. Understand the importance of biological diversity and the need for international efforts to conserve the Earth's biological diversity.

  2. Become familiar with environmental treaties with a focus on the Convention on Biological Diversity.

  3. Access and query the Environmental Treaties and Resource Indicators (ENTRI) Service for information on treaties.

  4. Conceptualize the key components of various environmental treaties and their role in dealing with global environmental issues such as climate change and loss of biodiversity.

  5. Expand information management skills by using interactive applications and querying on-line databases that store vast amounts of information.

Recent trends in species and habitat loss have created the need for international efforts such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, a global agreement to protect and promote the sustainable use of Earth's living resources.

Consider some facts from the World Resources Institute(WRI):

Estimates of global species diversity have varied from 2 million to 100 million species, with a best estimate of somewhere near 10 million, and only 1.4 million have actually been named.
The habitats richest in biodiversity are the tropical moist forests of Southeastern Asia, central and west-central Africa, and tropical Latin America. These forests, described as the global hotspots, contain more than half of all species.
At least half of the world's species are contained in just 7 percent of the world's land surface.
More than 700 species of vertebrates, invertebrates, and vascular plants have become extinct since 1600, and untold numbers probably became extinct without ever being described.
Only 5 percent of the world's land surface is in protected areas dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity (See Protected Areas Virtual Library). These areas include nature reserves, national parks, natural monuments, habitat and wildlife management areas, and protected landscapes.

E.O. Wilson, a Harvard biologist, said "Biological diversity must be treated more seriously as a global resource, to be indexed, used, and above all, preserved."

The following topical guide provides teachers with the necessary structure for exploring biodiversity resources and developing students' awareness of how the preservation of biological resources contributes to human welfare.

Biodiversity Defined/Glossary for Unit One

World Resources Institute Biodiversity Page: Includes an overview, facts and figures, glossary of terms, bilingual access in Spanish, and a wealth of biodiversity-related links.

Biological Diversity Overview from CIESIN's Thematic Guide on Land Use and Global Change explores how human activity impacts biodiversity.

For your convenience in handling this unit, the learning activities in this section have been divided into sub-sections:

  1. Biodiversity Components
  2. WRI suggests a process for teachers to build biodiversity awareness in schools:

    To demonstrate and discuss these components, examine the relationships between biodiversity and medicines, industrial products, and foods in society:

  3. Present Status of Biodiversity
  4. Once students understand the importance of biodiversity, they can examine the status of species and the factors that threaten biodiversity:

  5. Conservation of Biodiversity
  6. WRI provides access to the measures taken to conserve biological diversity at the following levels:

    Students may also view the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Recovery Activities to see what actions have been taken to recover endangered species.

  7. Using CIESIN's Environmental Treaties and Resource Indicators (ENTRI)
  8. ENTRI, an interactive application, provides students with the opportunity to access the international initiatives for conserving biological diversity and to integrate environmental issues with environmental data. Educators may begin by consulting the ENTRI Thematic Guide as a tutorial or continue here with the ENTRI Lesson Plan.

    The Convention on Biological Diversity(CBD), opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Brazil on June 5, 1992, and entered into force on December 29, 1993, contains three national level obligations: to conserve, to sustainably use, and to share the benefits of biological diversity.

    Have students enter the term "biodiversity" in the ENTRI Free Text Search and click on the CBD to browse the complete text, structure and language of the Treaty.

    Students may also browse other environmental treaties related to biodiversity by searching the terms "biological diversity." Some samples of treaties are included here:

    Show students how to find answers to basic questions about international environmental agreements by scrolling to 'Searching and Browsing the ENTRI System' and use the Basic Questions option:

  9. ENTRI Explorer Teams
  10. Form teams of 2-3 students to perform both "hands-on" and "minds-on" research. From the ENTRI, view the "set of basic questions pertaining to international environmental agreements." Have students expand their searches in ENTRI. Example:

    Encourage students to follow up with expanded searches that build on previous results, such as:

    Continue with the same search strategy as before. Print results for comparison with first search.

ENTRI provides the different kinds of data involved in the development and implementation of environmental treaties. By evaluating the gathered ENTRI information and relating it to world situations, students develop an understanding of the role of science and the importance of informed decision-making in biodiversity issues.

Discuss the ENTRI data so that students understand the outputs.

Refer back to ENTRI's Basic Questions for a description of each predefined search. Or for help, contact

Discuss the feasibility of maintaining global biodiversity and show some examples of current efforts.

A biodiversity program from the Smithsonian Institution, Biological Diversity of the Guianas (BDG) Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, is one work in progress.

An NSTA print publication, Global Environmental Change: Biodiversity, complements this unit and provides a science-based case study of how Costa Rica is addressing biodiversity. For further description and order information, check the Just Released! list from NSTA Publications.

Discuss some of the obstacles to improving biodiversity.

WRI covers the need for research and dissemination of information in, Information Required to Conserve Biological Diversity, and examines how an international convention can supplement the costs associated with biodiversity efforts in Financing Biodiversity Conservation.

Time Requirements for Unit One:

Interest Approach30 minutes
Learning Activities 1-360 minutes
Learning Activities 4-590 minutes
Total Time Required3 hours

References for GCRIO Unit One

Additional Biodiversity Resources

Please forward any comments or suggestions that might improve this Unit for classroom use:

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