Biodiversity is attracting increased interest. Plant and animal species are threatened with extinction and many scientists describe the biodiversity crisis as the worst crisis to humanity. Humans are the cause—but we can also be part of the solution.


Biodiversity includes all life on earth - marine and terrestrial. This includes animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, and the ecosystems they inhabit, e.g. forests and lakes.

Biodiversity is about the variability of living organisms, including in the number of species, in their genes, in their functions, and in the ecosystems they inhabit. Biodiversity also includes the interactions that take place between species as well as between ecosystems. It is therefore a complex area.

Biodiversity is affected by human activity. Among other things, this applies to the cultivation of land and forests, as well as fishing. Furthermore, global warming and the resulting climate changes are also harming many species of plants and animals.

DTU is particularly concerned with marine biodiversity.

DTU’s researchers work on the development of technology to measure and monitor biodiversity, methods to strengthen biodiversity (e.g. nature-based solutions and nature restoration) and include biodiversity parameters in life cycle assessments (LCAs), which are used in connection with assessing the impact of new products or technologies on the environment and biodiversity.


See the answers to the most common questions about biodiversity.

Biodiversity includes all life on earth - marine and terrestrial. That means all animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, and other living organisms as well as the ecosystems they inhabit. An ecosystem could be a forest or a lake, for instance. In the ecosystem, each species has a specific function and each contributes in its own way to the workings of the ecosystem.

Biodiversity thus includes several aspects:

  • number of species
  • genetic variations of the species
  • variations in ecosystems and habitats
  • the interaction between the different species within the ecosystems.

“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.”
Biodiversity is not just about the number of different animal or plant species. It also has to do with the genetic differences within species and the variations of the ecosystems that all living organisms are part of. An ecosystem could be a forest, a meadow, a stream or a lake, for instance. In the ecosystem, each species has a specific function and each contributes in its own way to the workings of the ecosystem.

When you look at biodiversity as 'functional biodiversity', it is not about looking at the number of species, but about mapping the diversity of the species' properties.

Properties can, e.g., be physiology and behavior that are of decisive importance for the functions of the species and the niches in an ecosystem.

Such functions can be the build-up of biomass in the form of stocks of fish, or the recirculation of nutrients.

An ecosystem with many different characteristics is more stable, flexible and productive. This means that the ecosystem is more resistant to harmful factors such as pollution and climate change.

Therefore, protecting ecosystem functions is just as important as conserving species.

Functional biodiversity is a new way of thinking about biodiversity that has been developed within the last 10 years.

Ecosystems are part of biodiversity. Ecosystems can for example be a sea area, a forest, or a lake. Different ecosystems support different ecosystem services, which are the direct and indirect ways nature contributes to human well-being and quality of life.

Some ecosystem services can be enjoyed directly, for example the oxygen in the air. Others require human processing to become e.g., food, energy, or materials. It is e.g., the fish to be caught, the water in your faucet to be pumped up, trees to be felled.

Other ecosystem services are called 'cultural' and cover our opportunities to have recreational experiences, learning, or religious activities in nature. Activities in nature that can be central to many of the world's population groups.

Finally, there are ecosystem services that take place without most people knowing about it. E.g., the climate regulation that occurs by plants and the world's oceans binding CO2 from the growing CO2 emissions.

All animals and plants have a function that ultimately benefits humans, even if we are not necessarily aware of it. It is because of ecosystem services such as cleaner air, carbon uptake, water filtration, coasts withstanding extreme weather, and much more that we can breathe, eat, and live on this planet. There is a clear link between good biodiversity and a high level of ecosystem services, and increased biodiversity also ensures more resilient ecosystems.

Economists have tried to calculate nature’s ecosystem services in dollars and cents, and in a report by the World Economic Forum it is estimated that nature generates value of USD 44 trillion a year for the world economy. This is equivalent to more than half of the world’s GDP. Industries such as construction, agriculture, and food are particularly dependant on nature and its services.

In Denmark, researchers from the University of Copenhagen have collaborated with Aarhus University and Statistics Denmark on developing two models for calculating the effects of our economic activities on the environment and climate. ‘The green GDP’ can estimate the value of biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions, and air and water pollution. The ‘Green REFORM model’ can calculate what is needed to achieve the politically determined environmental and climate goals. 

Some experts believe that it makes no sense at all to put a price on nature, but the people behind the calculation models argue that there is a risk that important environmental values will be underprioritized in the political process if we do not. Read more here.


High or low biodiversity usually refers to the quantifiable parts of biodiversity, i.e. the amount of different species and specimens within each species.

If there are many different species or rare species, an area will often be described as having high biodiversity. On the other hand, if there are few species, it will be described as having low biodiversity.

However, low biodiversity is not necessarily a bad thing. Some ecosystems, such as salt marshes, are home to only a few species, but these species are highly specialized and play an important role in the ecosystem.

Biodiversity is difficult to measure because it covers several different aspects; the number of species, the genetic variation of the species, and the entire ecosystem that the species inhabit.

One of the methods used by researchers at DTU to monitor biodiversity is collecting DNA from the water through an underwater robot. The technique is called eDNA (environmental DNA) and the robot is called ESP (Environmental Sample Processor).

The robot can take water samples for up to three months before it runs out of battery. It can be programmed to take samples at specific intervals and can identify up to five different species in the samples.

The ESP was developed in the USA, where it is used to measure algal blooms, among other things, but the Danish version was further developed at DTU so it can be used to detect DNA traces in the environment. In 2024, a new generation of the robot will be ready for action, this time being able to sail around and collect e-DNA samples rather than remaining stationary.
All over the world, nature is declining at an unprecedented pace. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) estimates that one million out of approximately eight million species are threatened with extinction.

Other organizations such as the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) estimate that 28 per cent of all the world’s species are threatened with extinction. The situation is so critical that some experts are talking about the sixth mass extinction - the most recent one occurring 66 million years ago when the dinosaurs disappeared.

However, it is unclear how many species actually exist on the planet. One of the most recognized studies estimates that there are 8.7 million species, meaning that 86 per cent of terrestrial species and 91 per cent of marine species have not yet been discovered and identified.

FN/Den internationale biodiversitetsorganisation IPBES (The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) peger på fem hovedårsager til, at biodiversiteten er truet. De er alle menneskeskabte.

  • Invasive arter fortrænger oprindelige arter
  • Ændringer i brug af jorden og havet ødelægger de naturlige økosystemer
  • Klimaændringer med øgede temperaturer til følge
  • Forurening med spildevand, affald, plastik
  • Overudnyttelse af naturens ressourcer både på land og vand

FN/IPBES slår fast, at den største faktor er vores brug af land og hav.

The UN and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) point to five main reasons why biodiversity is threatened. They are all manmade.

  1. Changes in land and sea use
  2. Direct exploitation of natural resources
  3. Climate change
  4. Pollution
  5. Invasive species

The UN and the IPBES state that the biggest factor is our occupation of land and sea. Agriculture (identified as the cause for 85 per cent of species threatened with extinction), forestry, and our cities are occupying more and more land, while overfishing, among other things, affects biodiversity in the sea.

The EU has created a biodiversity strategy to stop the biodiversity crisis and states that the member states must protect 30 per cent of the nature on land and in the sea—of which 10 per cent should be strictly protected—by 2030.

In general, we need to give nature space. According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), 75 per cent the land and 66 per cent of the ocean has been significantly altered by human activity. 420 million hectares of forest has disappeared since 1990, and with it the habitats of many species.

In addition, we need to reduce some of the other factors that are harmful to biodiversity. At sea, this could be nutrient pollution, bottom trawling, and dredging and dumping, and on land it could be deforestation and pollution.

In some cases, it may be necessary to do active nature restoration. For example, once humans have removed stones from the sea, new ones will not automatically appear, so those will need to be restored. Other species such as eelgrass grow back on their own over time if the harmful factors disappear or decrease - however, this can take many years.

The climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis are closely linked. Some experts even believe that achieving our climate goals is unrealistic if we do not take biodiversity into account. Temperature rises and extreme weather can destroy ecosystems and habitats, and when biodiversity deteriorates, natural processes such as carbon burial and carbon uptake can be affected. And that, in turn, exacerbates climate change.

Conversely, if we restore and protect natural habitats, the ecosystem services will improve and nature can thus help solve the climate crisis.

However, some of our climate solutions can also harm biodiversity. For example, installing wind turbines, solar farms, and other power plants for the green transition affects the habitats of many species. Similarly, planting a lot of trees of the same species is not necessarily good for biodiversity. It is therefore important to consider biodiversity for all our climate solutions.

Today, we use technology to measure biodiversity through, e.g., sensors that can measure the number of species in an ecosystem, or eDNA analyses of water that determine which species have been in the water recently based on a water sample.

This data can help determine which areas in nature should be protected because of their importance to biodiversity.

DTU researchers have also made headway in setting quantitative targets for biodiversity such as how to include biodiversity in the life cycle assessment that form the basis for assessing the impact of future products or technologies on human health, resource consumption, and biodiversity.

In addition, technology can help reduce the human footprint that is causing the biodiversity crisis. For example, better technological methods can be developed for wastewater treatment, or robots can be developed to help take agricultural crops from monoculture to polyculture, which benefits biodiversity.
A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is an assessment of the impact of a product or technology on the environment throughout its entire life cycle. This means looking at the extraction of raw materials for production, the manufacturing process, as well as use and disposal or recycling of the product.

The environmental impact categories generally assessed in an LCA are: resources, human health, and biodiversity of ecological systems.

At DTU, researchers have made headway in quantifying biodiversity to be included in LCAs.

Contact our experts in biodiversity

Karen Timmermann is a professor and expert in marine ecology and a member of the Danish Biodiversity Council, which advises the government and parliament on biodiversity. She conducts research into natural and human-induced influences on the coastal waters, particularly about the effect of nutrients on the marine environment and marine nature.

Jon C. Svendsen is a senior researcher with knowledge of restoring fish habitats for the benefit of commercial and recreational fishing. He is developing new methods for coastal protection and new harbor structures, which also improve biodiversity. Similarly, he is studying how offshore windfarms, oil and gas platforms may be optimized to support life at sea.
Einar Eg Nielsen is a professor and works primarily with fish genetics for mapping and management of marine resources and biodiversity. It includes DNA methods (eDNA) to identify and monitor species and populations that are important, rare, threatened, invasive, or new species that have immigrated to Danish waters due to climate change.
three persons in the nature

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Environmental Engineering Fisheries Technology Ocean Engineering Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture

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