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The challenge

Biodiversity is the complex web of life on Earth, incorporating humans and our social and economic systems. The number of life-forms on Earth is unknown, but it may be some 20–30 million species, of which only about 1.8 million are known to science. Biodiversity can be studied at the level of the whole planet or confined to a mountain lake. However, whatever the level, the organisms interact in a complex, dynamic manner – both among themselves and with the non-living environment they share. Animals, plants and micro-organisms are a vital resource for humans, forming important elements in many processes on which we depend.

Research history and policy relevance

Europe has a rich and varied biodiversity, but this diversity is feeling the pressure of expanding populations, industrial technologies and transport, aggravated by intensive exploitation of natural resources by industry, agriculture and fisheries. Human activity can upset the finely balanced interactions that keep ecosystems relatively stable. Cutting down forests, for example, can lead to desertification, changes in water run-off patterns and species extinction. In addition, overuse of natural resources has led to species depletion and loss of biodiversity, which is often irreversible. At the 2002 Gothenburg European Council, the EU set out to halt biodiversity loss by 2010. However, there are clear indications that the target is missed, which is why the European Commission recently called for reinforced action. The EU has long recognised the importance of coherent and focused research as a means of meeting biodiversity objectives, with biodiversity playing a significant role in successive framework programmes.

Biodiversity in FP7

European research is directed towards assessing and forecasting changes in biodiversity and understanding the dynamics of ecosystems, particularly marine ecosystems. The relationships between the environment, the society and the economy are analysed in order to identify – and mitigate – potentially harmful effects on the environment and on human health and society. Risk assessments based on European research allow us to better manage, conserve and rehabilitate our ecosystems in a sustainable manner for future generations.