834013 Biodiversity, what is it good for?

Semester hours
Lecturer (assistant)
Toca-Herrera, José Luis , Meimberg, Harald
Offered in
Sommersemester 2024
Languages of instruction


The class covers the question of the importance of biodiversity for our society. Biodiversity loss is one major factor of the environmental crisis. Regardless, it is difficult to argue in favor of biodiversity conservation in the light of conflicting sustainable development goals or targets for environmental protection. The general view of “biodiversity delivering important ecosystem services” is certainly true but neglects the fundamental role of the biosphere for processes that allow life on our planet and ultimately support the existence of our civilization in its current form.
A number of important hypotheses had been formulated that show biodiversity as an ecosystem service in its own right or as the fundament of all services. Many of these hypotheses can be supported by research and are widely accepted in the ecological sciences. Contrary to this importance, related concepts play only a subordinated role in the current application of the sustainability paradigm, so it is difficult to grasp biodiversity in the context of the ecosystem service metaphor. The class introduces these concepts in comparison to the value system we use normally as justification of biodiversity preservation.
The major part of the class will introduce the different arguments about the role of biodiversity, covering ultimately the question for what “biodiversity is good for” by illustrating a range of possible explanations. From utilitarian or ethical considerations of value for biodiversity to concepts like Clement’s superorganism, the ecological engineering and keystone species, thermodynamic explanation of the selforganization of living systems, and the attempts to join ecological with evolutionary processes. This cumulates in the Gaia hypotheses, a view on earth unifying biological and geological processes as base to understand the planet as a living system. Besides that the class provides a characterization of biodiversity and the biodiversity crisis and the different approaches to embed the biodiversity concept into social sciences on one hand and ecology on the other. The different scientific approaches imply different solutions for conservation, which will be introduced in the class.

Previous knowledge expected

None, Class is designed for advanced bachelor or Masterlevel

Objective (expected results of study and acquired competences)

The goal of the class is to introduce the variety of scientific approaches to describe the role of society in its interaction with the biosphere. This should increase awareness of approaches that can be taken to solve the societal challenges we face today and provide arguments how to treat biodiverstiy in the context of environmental management and within the transformation of our economy. The class target specifically students of topics that include biodiversity related management applications of advanced bachelor or master level.
You can find more details like the schedule or information about exams on the course-page in BOKUonline.