Biodiversity is not only the sum of all ecosystems, species and genetic material; it also represents the variability within and among them.

Definition of Biodiversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity gives a formal definition of biodiversity: "biological diversity means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems".

Biological diversity is often understood at three levels:

  • species diversity refers to the variety of different species (plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms) such as palm trees, elephants or bacteria; 
  • genetic diversity corresponds to the variety of genes contained in plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms. It occurs within a species as well as between species. 
  • ecosystem diversity refers to all the different habitats - or places - that exist, like tropical or temperate forests, hot and cold deserts, wetlands, rivers, mountains, coral reefs, etc. Each ecosystem corresponds to a series of complex relationships between biotic (living) components such as plants and animals and abiotic (non-living) components which include sunlight, air, water, minerals and nutrients.

Rock of Gibraltar Nature Reserve

The Gibraltar Nature Reserve: Upper Rock, was officially designated as a Reserve in 1993. Its size was further extended in 2013 to include new areas that would further help protect important habitats and species.

For further information, please click on the link below.

View Rock of Gibraltar Nature Reserve

Marine Environment

British Gibraltar Territorial Waters are closely monitored in order to ensure the preservation and improvement of our waters as well as the life within. From marine management and coastal water monitoring to fishing regulations, click on the link below to learn more about these initiatives and more.

View Marine

Ecosystems services

Humankind benefits in a multitude of ways from all kinds of ecosystems: agroecosystems, forest ecosystems, grassland ecosystems, aquatic ecosystems, natural ecosystems, urban ecosystems, etc. Collectively, these benefits are known as ecosystem services. The services can be divided into four different categories.

Provisioning services

Provisioning Services are ecosystem services that describe the material or energy outputs from ecosystems. They include food, water and other resources.

  • Food: Ecosystems provide the conditions for growing food. Food comes principally from managed agro-ecosystems but marine and freshwater systems or forests also provide food for human consumption. 
  • Raw materials: Ecosystems provide a great diversity of materials for construction and fuel including wood, biofuels and plant oils, that are directly derived from wild and cultivated plant species.
  • Fresh water: Ecosystems play a vital role in the global hydrological cycle, as they regulate the flow and purification of water. Vegetation and forests influence the quantity of water available locally.
  • Medicinal resources: Ecosystems and biodiversity provide many plants used as traditional medicines as well as providing the raw materials for the pharmaceutical industry. All ecosystems are a potential source of medicinal resources.

Regulating services

Regulating Services are the services that ecosystems provide by acting as regulators e.g. regulating the quality of air and soil, or by providing flood and disease control.

Local climate & air quality: Trees provide shade, whilst forests influence rainfall and water availability both locally and regionally. Trees and plants also play an important role in regulating air quality by removing pollutants from the atmosphere.

Carbon sequestration & storage: Ecosystems regulate the global climate by storing and sequestering greenhouse gases. As trees and plants grow, they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and effectively lock it away in their tissues. In this way forest ecosystems are carbon stores. Biodiversity also plays an important role by improving the capacity of ecosystems to adapt to the effects of climate change.

Moderation of extreme events: Extreme weather events or natural hazards include floods, storms, tsunamis, avalanches and landslides. Ecosystems and living organisms create buffers against natural disasters, thereby preventing possible damage, e.g. coral reefs and mangroves help protect coastlines from storm damage.

Waste-water treatment: Ecosystems such as wetlands filter both human and animal waste and act as a natural buffer to the surrounding environment. 

Erosion prevention & maintenance of soil fertility: Soil erosion is a key factor in the process of land degradation and desertification. Vegetation cover provides a vital regulating service by preventing soil erosion. Soil fertility is essential for plant growth and agriculture and well-functioning ecosystems supply the soil with nutrients required to support plant growth.

Pollination: Insects and wind pollinate plants and trees which is essential for the development of fruits, vegetables and seeds. Animal pollination is an ecosystem service mainly provided by insects but also by some birds and bats. 

Biological control: Ecosystems are important for regulating pests and vector borne diseases that attack plants, animals and people. Ecosystems regulate pests and diseases through the activities of predators and parasites. Birds, bats, flies, wasps, frogs and fungi all act as natural controls.

Habitat or supporting services

Habitats for species: Habitats provide everything that an individual plant or animal needs to survive: food, water and shelter. Each ecosystem provides different habitats that can be essential for a species’ lifecycle. 

Maintenance of genetic diversity: Genetic diversity is the variety of genes between and within species populations. Genetic diversity distinguishes different breeds or races from each other thus providing the basis for locally well-adapted cultivars and a gene pool for further developing commercial crops and livestock. Some habitats have an exceptionally high number of species which makes them more genetically diverse than others and are known as ‘biodiversity hotspots’.

Cultural services

Recreation & mental & physical health: Walking and playing sports in green spaces is not only a good form of physical exercise but also lets people relax. The role that green space plays in maintaining mental and physical health is increasingly being recognized.

Tourism: Ecosystems and biodiversity play an important role for many kinds of tourism which in turn provides considerable economic benefits and is a vital source of income for many countries. 

Aesthetic appreciation & inspiration for culture, art & design: Language, knowledge and the natural environment have been intimately related throughout human history. Biodiversity, ecosystems and natural landscapes have been the source of inspiration for much of our art, culture and increasingly for science.

Spiritual experience & sense of place: In many parts of the world natural features such as specific forests, caves or mountains are considered sacred or have a religious meaning. Nature is a common element of all major religions and traditional knowledge, and associated customs are important for creating a sense of belonging.

Biodiversity is critical to Global Sustainability

Sustainability is the capacity to endure.  We cannot have sustainable, productive ecosystems without maintaining biodiversity.  Humans depend on the healthy functionality of ecosystems which maintain the basic planetary life support systems we rely on every day.

Sadly, global biodiversity loss is occurring at alarming rates, an estimated 100-1,000 times faster than pre-human levels, and the threats are numerous, including global deforestation, urbanization, climate change, overexploitation of fisheries and marine environments, industrial and agricultural expansion, pollution, invasive species etc.

Wild Rabbit Re-Population Programme

Gibraltar’s wild rabbit populations dropped to low numbers in recent years.  This occurred in part due to overgrown vegetation and predation by feral cats.  In 2015, as part of a greater scheme to introduce and enhance biodiversity in the Upper Rock, the Government’s Department of the Environment and Climate Change, GONHS and the Gibraltar Nature Reserve Management Team, resulted in the introduction of 59 wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus algirus).  These were released in the areas of Windmill Hill, Upper Rock fire breaks and near Bruce’s Farm. 

The wild rabbits were provided by a breeder in Andalucia who also provides the Junta de Andalucia. Before release they were vaccinated against common diseases by the Gibraltar Veterinary Clinic.