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The diversity of life
Biodiversity can be described on three levels: diversity of habitats, of species and of genes. By ratifying the Biodiversity Convention of Rio in 1994, Switzerland agreed to monitor, maintain and foster biodiversity. Why did it take on such a commitment? Ecosystems where the biodiversity is high provide important services, such as pollinating cultivated plants or keeping soils fertile and stable under changing environmental conditions. Biodiversity also adds to the quality of life and to the recreational value of our surroundings. Biodiversity in Switzerland is steadily declining and additional efforts are required to protect it.
Science and the protection of biodiversity
Efforts to monitor and enhance biodiversity in Switzerland must have a sound scientific basis. Here findings from one of WSL’s key areas of research are very relevant. Thus we have developed methods to record changes in species populations. For example, we maintain national data centres with infor - mation on fungi and lichens. We document the state of their populations and compile Red Lists of endangered species for both groups of organisms. Other WSL researchers investigate the factors that influence biodiversity. For example, forestry may affect the diversity of forest plants since opening up the crown canopy promotes the diversification of the herb layer. Such findings can be fed into recommendations for enhancing the diversity of plants, insects and other life forms through appropriate forestry methods. This research also provides the scientific basis for spotting problems at an early stage and for deriving adequate measures to protect and enhance biodiversity. As these measures are often costly, it is important to check their effectiveness. We therefore develop monitoring methods to help improve these measures. An example of such a measure is the creation of new habitats for the endangered tree frog in various regions of Switzerland over the past few years. We have been able, using genetic methods, to show that this has been effective and that, as a result, the different tree frog populations in Switzerland are now much better connected.