The biosphere consists of millions of living species, and millions more have existed in the past. The total number of living species is still unknown, but current developments in paleontology, molecular biology, and sampling techniques, have totally reshaped our view of the classification of the living world. It is now recognized that plants and animals; traditionally the two groups defining the science of biology, are merely two branches on a giant tree of life. Many other independent and diverse groups exist, such as brown algae, fungi, diatoms, archaea and may different groups of bacteria.
The aim of this course is two-fold. Firstly, it will provide an overview of the living world. We will travel through the tree of life, starting with the prokaryote domains of bacteria and archaea. We will investigate different prokaryote groups, their ways of life, and their manifestations in the world around us. Next, we will explore the diversity of eukaryotes. There are countless single-celled eukaryotic groups that play important ecological roles, such as dinoflagellates that help create coral reefs, and apicomplexans that cause diseases like malaria. Finally, we will discuss the multicellular groups that shape the world around us: plants, seaweeds, fungi and animals. Methods for investigating biodiversity will also be discussed.
The second aim of this course is to investigate the relevance of biodiversity for human society. Biodiversity is important in many domains, such as food and food security, (circular) economy, climate and health/well-being, (multifunctional) land use, and as an indicator for ecosystem health. These topics will be integrated in the course sessions. In general, each session will consist of an “overview” part, in which a group of organisms will be discussed, and a number of examples and discussion items on the relevance of biodiversity for human society.