Signal to Noise Special Edition: United Nations Decade on Biodiversity

Articles in this Special Edition

The importance of being biodiverse

Wenfei Tong

Alien invasion! Ecological and societal impacts of invasive species

Katie Boronow

Biodiversity and human health

Rachel Becker

Metagenomics: Exploring the depths of the microbial world

Jon Russell

Managing biodiversity: Indigenous knowledge, elephants, and the repercussions of intervention

Alexandra Brown

A conversation with Dr. Elizabeth Barron

Marc Presler

Words from the Editors

Biodiversity,  a measure of the variety of all organisms on our planet, is crucial for the health of our living world. It is essential for maintaining the stability of ecosystems and in providing a range of functions, such as recycling nutrients, producing clean air and water, etc. – collectively known as ecosystem services – that are vital for all living things, including humans. However, biodiversity is currently undergoing a severe crisis, with an extinction rate of species that is probably comparable to the handful of mass extinction events of prehistoric times, and this staggering loss is due in large part to human activities such as the destruction of habitats, pollution and overexploitation of resources. At the end, it is to our own benefit that we strive to safeguard biodiversity, not only because of the ecosystem services that depend on it, but also because nature’s diversity is an irreplaceable source of our medicines and foods. Biodiversity protection must extend beyond the conservation of a few iconic species, however, but instead must be comprehensive in covering all organisms big and small, and in the process of environmental intervention we must take into account the rights and interests of the humans in its midst, especially the indigenous populations whose livelihoods and culture have been closely intertwined for centuries with the environment they live in.

In order to promote greater public awareness of the scale and causes of the threat to biodiversity, the importance of biodiversity to natural ecosystems and to human society, and the need for broadly-based action to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, the United Nations declared the decade from 2011-2020 the “United Nations Decade on Biodiversity”. The main goal of this Decade is to support the implementation of the Strategic Plan and Aichi Biodiversity Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

In support of these very worthwhile goals, SITN Flash is proud to present our third special edition, on the theme of biodiversity. Articles written by graduate students at Harvard cover a range of topics on biodiversity, including an introduction to what it is and what are the main threats to it; a more in-depth look at one of the most significant threats, that of invasive species; an overview of the important role that biodiversity plays in human health and agriculture; an exploration of the fascinating diversity of microorganisms that is hidden from most of our eyes; and a discussion of the impact of ecological interventions on indigenous populations and the need for a more considered approach. The Flash also sat down for an interview with Dr. Elizabeth Barron, a scholar who works at the intersection of the social and natural sciences, to talk about how our approaches to tackling a complex problem like biodiversity will benefit if everyone – politicians, scientists, businesses and the general public – can critically take into consideration different viewpoints and value systems.

I would like to thank all the writers who contributed to this special edition as well as the editorial team that made this project possible. I would also like to thank our illustrator, Shannon McArdel, for once again producing the amazing themed graphics for each article.

Johnny Kung (Harvard Medical School), Managing Editor

Editorial Team: Brian Beliveau, Tyler Ford, Emily Lehrman, Alex Meeske, Jamie Schafer, Rosa Yoon, Rachel Yunck

Illustrator: Shannon McArdel

Happy Reading!
Flash Editorial Staff

UNDB Official Website:

UNDB logo and icons used with permission from the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Science in the News supports the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity.