Biodiversity is a comprehensive concept. It includes the diversity of all life on earth, from flowers and bees to bacteria and tropical forests. Biodiversity is essential to humankind, for it is the foundation for our food, clean air, soil quality and other ecosystem services. Biodiversity and nature also benefit our well-being: green is good for us. Moreover, biodiversity has intrinsic value: who are we to decide whether a panda or tiger deserves to live?

Despite the value of biodiversity, it is under significant threat. Images of deforested wastelands where tropical rainforests once stood to monocultural farming systems are well known. Deforestation, urbanisation, industrialisation, pollution and climate change all contribute to the alarming loss of biodiversity. Scientists sound the alarm. The loss of biodiversity threatens our very existence, and there is no time to waste in diverting this downward spiral.

Reversing biodiversity loss

Black: The historical biodiversity loss curve before 2010  Green: with effort through more sustainable production and consumption Orange: without more sustainable production and consumption  Grey: if we continue on our current path.

Biodiversity loss curve:
Black: The historical biodiversity loss curve before 2010
Green: with effort through more sustainable production and consumption
Orange: without more sustainable production and consumption
Grey: if we continue on our current path

This infographic was published in Nature magazine: Bending the curve of terrestrial biodiversity needs an integrated strategy

Working to save biodiversity: the Wageningen approach

Wageningen University & Research (WUR) has been working towards this goal for many years through the “Wageningen approach”. From within numerous disciplines, our ecologists, soil experts, plant and animal scientists, behavioural scientists, transition scientists and other experts study biodiversity issues that affect land, freshwater systems and the seas. Moreover, they are in close contact with involved parties across the globe.

Thanks to this unique pooling of knowledge, WUR has assumed a leading role in halting the decline of biodiversity. The global biodiversity, food and climate issues cannot be considered separately and can only be solved through an integral (evidence-based) scientific approach. Success can be achieved if all parties in these domains join forces. Not just scientists, but businesses, governments, citizens and civic organisation as well. WUR aims to lead as a global unifier in developing new innovations and integrated solutions to restore biodiversity in a sustainable and just manner.

Focus areas

How detrimental is loss of biodiversity?

Simply put, biodiversity includes the entire diversity of all life forms on earth. Not just the number of species and their genetic variation (different potato strains, for example) but also the way these species and variants are interconnected and how they interact. This may appear abstract, but in reality, it is not. Biodiversity is what flies through the air, grows in the ground, swims in the water and ends up on your plate. Almost everything we eat, use as construction materials, medication or as industrial feedstock, is linked to biodiversity in one way or another. Biodiversity also exists in ecosystems, from forests to fields and from deserts to coral reefs.

Biodiversity in ecosystems keeps our planet inhabitable. It filters the air, water and soil—moreover, biodiversity cushions climate change and impacts health. A stroll through nature benefits us. Biodiversity is so natural that we often overlook it. Just imagine how serious it would be if these natural things disappeared from our lives. You don’t miss it till it’s gone. That is why a shift in our thinking and acting is urgently needed.

Bees and other pollinating insects

The honeybee is just one of the 350 species of bees found in the Netherlands. Wild bees (bumblebees and solitary bees) form an enormously diverse group of pollinators who feel at home both in nature reserves and in the city. Researchers at Wageningen University & Research are not only examining which factors are important for the health of honeybees, but for other pollinating insects as well.

Grassland birds

Populations of grassland birds in the Netherlands have been declining for decades. The only way we can safeguard stable populations for the future is by improving the way we use and manage current grassland bird habitats.

Agricultural biodiversity

Soil and biodiversity are important for a future-proof agricultural sector. The starting point today is agroecology; agriculture aimed at building viable farms based on natural processes. Examples of this include strip cropping, mixed cropping and agroforestry.

Naturally resistant flowers and plants

A biodiverse environment can help flowers and plants to regain their natural resistance and so keep diseases and pests under control. Resistant soils, resistant plants and sustainable cultivation systems are all an important part of this, and can be combined with techniques such as crop rotation, mixed cropping or flower-rich field margins with host plants for valuable insects. But we also need state-of-the-art tools to understand how natural resistance works so that we can identify and understand the enormous group of soil microorganisms and develop practical applications.

Dairy farming

Biodiversity is becoming an increasingly important factor for the reputation and export position of the Dutch dairy industry. This industry has set itself the goal of maintaining biodiversity on dairy farms at minimum the 2011 level. The WUR Dairy Campus is exploring how to help improve biodiversity for the benefit of farmers, the public and the dairy herds.

Marine and freshwater biodiversity

Our seas and rivers are full of life, but the biodiversity of these waters is threatened by human activities. Experts from Wageningen University & Research are studying various aspects of marine and aquatic habitats, from plastic waste and wind farms in the North Sea to coral reefs and sharks on the Saba Bank..

Data for policy-making

Our common interest in biodiversity is enshrined in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). NLBIF is a Dutch data hub and part of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). Various institutes of Wageningen University & Research participate in NLBIF/GBIF and the University is currently one of the largest European suppliers of open data on biodiversity. The Dutch Environmental Compendium for the Living Environment, co-edited by Wageningen University & Research, provides a wealth of facts and figures on nature and the environment.

Added value for and with nature

The centuries-old relationship between agriculture and nature is the focus of much attention today. How can we ensure a healthy balance between nature for recreation and agriculture and the conservation and management of biodiversity? Wageningen University & Research is exploring various earning models in which nature plays an integral role, whereby the core of the business model is not only to generate profits through agricultural production, but also to add value to nature and simultaneously benefit from natural processes.

Urban biodiversity

Our cities are dependent on natural processes, for example to drain off rainwater and reduce heat. Trees provide cleaner air, bees pollinate flowers and green spaces are demonstrably benefical for our well-being. But nature is intrinsically valuable too. Researchers from Wageningen are involved in various projects on themes such as endangered animals and plants in the city, tiny forests, urban agriculture, and green buildings and industrial areas. “Giant steps have been taken, but there are also major barriers.”