Biological diversity refers to life in all its variety. It provides a big picture of organisms, their genetic differences, their diverse communities, and the ecological and evolutionary processes that sustain them.
Indiana''s historic biodiversity included regions of tallgrass prairies, hardwood forests, windswept dunescapes, abundant wetlands, and limestone cave communities. Twelve natural regions are recognized in the state, each with distinct topography, plants and animals. These range from remnants of the Grand Kankakee Marsh in northwest Indiana, which shelters at least 100,000 seasonally migrating waterfowl, to south-central Indiana''s karst region, riddled with sinkholes and caves which are home to endangered species of bats and cavefish.
Today, the state of Indiana lists 84 endangered animal species and 46 that have disappeared from the state. Of plant species, 197 are endangered, and 72 have vanished. Less than 0.001 percent of the state''s original prairie remains, and other regions have experienced similar declines.
The biggest threats to biodiversity in Indiana are the loss, degradation and fragmentation of habitat and the invasion of exotic (non-native) species. Roads, power lines, fences, and dams create barriers that make a patchwork of original habitats. Although the resulting fragments may contain many species, the intervening spaces separate members of species, preventing populations weakened by disease, loss of range, or inbreeding from being replenished by new immigrants. Plants and animals not native to Indiana have been introduced as cultivars and ornamental plantings, and accidentally as stowaways and pets. Some, like garlic mustard, disrupt existing communities because they flourish without natural control. Others compete directly with native species for food, space, or nesting sites.
The quality of life in Indiana, from the economy to recreation, depends upon maintaining biodiversity. A sound biological diversity provides natural resources for food, medicine and fuel, game for hunting and fishing, and wildlife for viewing. Biodiversity supports photosynthesis, water purification, flood control and soil generation, which, in turn, enhances agriculture. Healthy natural systems are a legacy we can leave to our children.
Only 700,000 acres (or 3%) of Indiana is publicly owned for the purpose of protection; therefore, restoration and conservation efforts rely upon the initiative of private and corporate landholders in cooperation with federal, state, and volunteer organizations.
The Indiana Biodiversity Initiative is a coalition of community leaders, natural resource managers, and scientists. Founded in 1996, its members include representatives from the business and agricultural communities, universities, federal and state government, and non-profit organizations. The Initiative''s goals include conserving and restoring Indiana''s natural landscapes, educating the public, and fostering communication among the many agencies and individuals concerned with biodiversity in Indiana.