Since biodiversity is inextricably linked with our lives, its preservation and protection is essential for our very survival. In the complexity of emerging scene of global warming and changes taking place on the climate front, it is prudent to emphasise the need to conserve biodiversity at all levels for the well being of the ecosystem and the world as a whole. Every living creature, no matter how small, has its own utility and purpose of existence. Ecosystem stability is therefore a compelling reason to vigorously pursue measures to counter the erosion of species. And so while we dominate this planet, it is time to ask ourselves what we can do to safeguard our environment from further degradation and avert future disasters. That generic erosion continues globally is a stark fact staring us in the face. More than 12 percent of birds, 21 percent of mammals, 30 percent of amphibians, 27 percent of coral reefs and 35 percent of conifers and cycads face extinction. Infact, according to the World Conservation Union, over 47,677 species may soon disappear. Given this, the UN has designated 2010 the 'international year of biodiversity'. Leaders from 170 countries will gather at a UN Biodiversity Summit, to be held in Nagoya in Japan in October 2010, to review the progress made in biodiversity conservation targets and adopt a road map to reverse the trend of biodiversity loss. Biodiversity simply means "the variety of life on Earth." The 1992 UN Convention on Biological Diversity defines biodiversity as "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 a part. This includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems." Biological diversity is of fundamental importance to the proper functioning of all natural and man-made ecosystems and by that logic to human society. Living organisms play a key role in the cycles of major elements and water in the environment and the diversities is of vital importance as these cycles require numerous interacting species. From the human perspective, from common drugs to possible cures for cancers and other life threatening diseases, most of our medicines come from plants. Biodiversity also holds the key to progress in agriculture, forestry and other fields. So, the costs associated with our deteriorating or vanishing ecosystems will be very high. Yet, the pressures to destroy habitats for commercial exploitation or for alternative uses such as road building are making conservation a struggle. Estimates of the number of species currently living on Earth ranges widely, but most estimates fall between five million and 30 million species. Roughly 1.75 million species have been finally described and given official names. Many new species of animals and plants are still being discovered. In Papua Guinia, 44 new species of animals were recently discovered in the forests. Brazil is estimated to have around 55,000 species of flora, amounting to some 22 percent of the world's total. So is the case with many other biodiverse regions such as Indonesia, parts of Africa and some tropical regions. A report from the World Commission of Forests and Sustainable Development suggests that the forests of the world have been exploited to the point of crisis and major changes are needed to avert the devastation. Undoubtedly, extinction is a fact of life and species have been evolving and dying out ever since the origin of life. However, species are now becoming extinct at an alarming rate. Over the last century, a great deal of damage has been done to the biodiversity existing on Earth. Today, one-fifth of all plant species face extinction in the next 20 years. In losing species, we lose the productivity and stability of the entire ecosystem. Large scale habitat and biodiversity losses mean that species with greater economic importance may become extinct before they are discovered. The vast, untapped resource of medicines and useful chemicals contained in wild species may be lost forever. Many marine species also have chemicals in their bodies, which could be a potential source of new economically important medicines. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that losing even one species upsets the balance of nature, which has a profound effect on all life forms. Naturally, we are also at a risk. The writer is a Delhi-based freelance columnist.