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Mission and History

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© shutterstock Maksym Gorpenyuk


Biodiversity underpins the life-support system of our planet. Both natural and managed ecosystems deliver important ecological services such as the production of food and fibre, carbon storage, climate regulation and recreation opportunities.

DIVERSITAS (the Latin word for “diversity”) was established to address the complex scientific questions posed by the loss in biodiversity and ecosystem services and to offer science based solutions to this crisis.

DIVERSITAS is an international programme of biodiversity science with a dual mission:

  • Promoting, facilitating and conducting integrative biodiversity science, that links biological, ecological
    and social disciplines; and
  • Providing the sound scientific basis for decisionmaking to secure the planet’s variety of life, while
    contributing to human well-being and poverty eradication.


DIVERSITAS achieves its mission by:

  • Fostering an integrated network of the world’s leading biodiversity scientists to address critical biodiversity issues;
  • Producing new knowledge by catalysing exchanges between scientists across nations and disciplines;
  • Synthesising new biodiversity knowledge to address the global science priorities;
  • Ensuring an effective engagement of the biodiversity science community globally with policy and decision makers, especially with relevant international conventions;
  • Developing biodiversity science capacity by nurturing younger scientists around the world.



Phase 1 (1991-2001): Biodiversity gains attention on the global scale

DIVERSITAS was established in 1991 by three international organisations, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) and the International Union of Biological Science (IUBS), at the time the need to address the complex scientific questions posed by the loss of and change in global biodiversity was identified. The goal of the initiative was to develop an international, non-governmental umbrella programme for research projects and the following themes were identified:

  • Effects of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning
  • Origins, maintenance and loss of biodiversity, and
  • Systematics: Inventory and classification of biodiversity.

In 1996, DIVERSITAS welcomed two new sponsors, the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the International Union of Microbiological Societies (IUMS), and added nine additional projects to its portfolio:

  • Monitoring of biodiversity
  • Conservation, restoration and sustainable use of biodiversity
  • Soil and sediment biodiversity
  • Marine biodiversity
  • Microbial biodiversity
  • Inland water biodiversity
  • Human dimensions of biodiversity
  • Global Invasive Species Programme (GISP)
  • Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment (GMBA)

The key findings during its first decade were synthesised in a series of books and laid the groundwork for experimental and theoretical research carried out by DIVERSITAS and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP). These findings also contributed to the Global Biodiversity Assessment, an initiative of the World Resources Institute, and to the work of the Convention on Biological Diversity, established in 1992, and with which DIVERSITAS has a Memorandum of Understanding.


Phase 2 (2002-2011): An international framework for biodiversity science

In 2001, DIVERSITAS organised an international consultation of its stakeholders on the need to launch a second phase of the programme. The conclusions of this consultation were in favour of launching a second phase, which would be more integrative and inter-disciplinary, and more socially policy relevant. This second phase of DIVERSITAS was approved by the five Sponsors. The new DIVERSITAS Science Plan was published in 2002. To implement this science plan, and in addition to GISP and GMBA, seven projects were established embracing a cycle of discovery, observation, analysis, and information sharing, on overarching scientific questions on biodiversity and related ecosystem services: bioGENESIS, bioDISCOVERY, ecoSERVICES, bioSUSTAINABILITY, agroBIODIVERSITY, ecoHEALTH and freshwaterBIODIVERSITY. In addition to these scientific projects, DIVERSITAS strongly engaged in the projects of the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP), a partnership for the integrated study of the Earth System, the ways that it is changing, and the implications for global and regional sustainability.
During this second phase, DIVERSITAS continued its engagement in serving policy fora, and since 2005, the Convention on Biological Diversity – CBD – is an Ex-Officio member of the DIVERSITAS Scientific Committee.


Phase 3 (2012-2020): Biodiversity and ecosystem services science for a sustainable planet

Since mid-2009, and in the light of the changes in the biodiversity science-policy landscape (establishment of a Biodiversity Observing Network - GEO BON, consultation on an Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services - IPBES, and launch of the ICSU Visioning process), DIVERSITAS was engaged in a phase of reviewing its activities and revising its 2002 Science Plan. The new DIVERSITAS Science Plan was published in 2012.


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