How many varieties of apples can you name—perhaps a handful? What about broccoli? If you’re like most of us, you may not be able to name a single variety. This shows just how far food biodiversity is from most of our radars.

Today is the United Nations-proclaimed International Day for Biological Diversity. If you’re thinking “What is biodiversity, and why should I care?” don’t worry—these 10 fast facts will have you sounding like a whiz at your next social gathering or dinner table discussion.

  1. Although tens of thousands of plant species can be grown for food, just 12 crops supply 80 percent of the world’s food supply (including soy, as in the photo above).
  2. The crops that take precedence are selected for yield rather than nutrition or diversity, meaning that many beneficial crops are underutilized.
  3. Less genetic diversity is a scary thing, as diversity is Mother Nature’s way of planning for, and protecting against, a disaster such as disease or climate change. More genetic diversity means better food security; it’s more likely that some crops will survive despite any adversity.
  4. By the year 2050, there will be an estimated 9 billion of us sharing this planet, so food security is more important now than ever before.
  5. A very small number of seed companies have an enormous amount of power. These few companies can patent plant varieties, preventing seed saving or exchanging by small-scale agriculturalists. This fosters dependence on not only the seed companies, but the small number of crops grown.
  6. Indigenous groups around the world can offer insight into how to preserve biodiversity.  While large-scale farming may seem like progress, we can actually learn a lot from the past through groups such as these.
  7. We can support biodiversity by planting heirloom crops, and by shopping at your local farmers’ market. Looking for recipes to use heirloom veggies? Try alive recipes such as Roasted Heirloom Beet and Butter Lettuce Salad or Heirloom Tomato Tarts.
  8. This year’s International Day for Biological Diversity theme is marine biodiversity. Just how much biodiversity is in the sea? The recent marine census has added 1,200 species to the known roster of life in the sea and “scientists are still working their way through another 5,000 specimens to determine whether they are also newly discovered species.” Overall, the number of marine species could total a million—or likely many more.
  9. Even with such high numbers of species, biodiversity in the oceans is under threat from issues such as plastic debris, overfishing, hunting, and climate change.
  10. Countries around the world are celebrating International Day for Biological Diversity. Check out what events are going on near you.

Want to know more? Check out our recent article by Michelle Hancock, “Preserving Biodiversity