An introduction to biodiversity.
A simple explanation of what biodiversity is, how we make sense of it and its importance to us. Plus an introduction to the biodiversity of potatoes and tomatoes.
Copyright: All rights reserved.
What is biodiversity?
Biodiversity is the word used to describe the variety of living things. It is a contraction of biological and diversity.
Why are we interested in it?
The broad natural variation found in potato and tomato plants is the key to breeding better crop plants in the future. These differences are the result of variability in the genes the plants contain. The largely unexplored wild relatives of tomatoes and potatoes may contain genes that when introduced into a crop plant could improve the quality of the crop.
How do we make sense of biodiversity?
This variation between plants can be enormous, but some plants are more closely related than others. To help us make sense of this enormous amount of variety scientists have tried to organise plants into different groups on the basis of how similar and closely related they are.
A species is the name given to a group of organisms (living things) that, although there may be differences between them, are similar enough to be recognised as a single unit. All humans, for example, belong to the species Homo sapiens and all cultivated tomatoes to the species Solanum lycopersicum. People who classify organisms look at many different parts of the plant or animal in order to define this similarity.
In botany (the study of plants) ‘varieties’ is a word used to describe different forms of one species. Plants belonging to different varieties may have differences in one characteristic, but in all other features they are like the rest of the species. Often different varieties are separated geographically and have become to some extent adapted to their local environment; this can make them look quite different.
A ‘cultivar’ is used to describe a variety or a species of plant that is cultivated. This is a distinction used by farmers and plant breeders rather than taxonomists and is useful for defining different sorts of plants that are used in agriculture. The name comes from the contraction of cultivated and variety. A cultivar must have qualities that distinguish it from other cultivars. Although all tomato and most potato cultivars are closely related to one another they often differ widely in certain traits, such as fruit size or tuber colour, as a result of human breeding activities.
Find out more
Use the tabs at the top of this page to explore some of the biodiversity of the potatoes and tomatoes and find out, amongst much else, what spuds are best for mash.