Biodiversity: exploring the variety of life.

Biodiversity is an exhibition at the Museum of Natural History that explores biodiversity through the celebrated art of Kurt Jackson and reflections from reserchers at Oxford University.

What is biodiversity?

The word Biodiversity describes the variety of life. In any one place, the range of living things, including plants, animals, and bacteria, is called its biodiversity. It is used as a measure of how well or poorly natural life is coping with stresses like loss of habitat, pollution or climate change. The higher the number of different species, the greater the biodiversity. Biodiverse habitats are healthier because they can cope with change. When there are many different plants and animals, a change is unlikely to affect them all so many will survive.

Daddy Long Legs by Kurt Jackson

Because human activity has an impact on biodiversity we have a responsibility to look after the health of ecosystems. Each habitat has its own distinctive biodiversity, from the fields and forests, seas and streams, to the increasingly buit up places where we humans tend to live. Under the water, on a mountain, in your garden; what lives there?

What’s in the exhibition?

This exhibition shows artworks made by artist and environmentalist Kurt Jackson. The art was made in a number of different locations across the UK. Alongside it, there are displays of specimens from the Museum’s collection. These highlight the range of species found in landscapes across the UK. The artwork and museum specimens have been combined with responses from biodiversity researchers at the University of Oxford. How can we understand it? How can we protect it? What does it mean to us all?

British insects on display in the Biodiversity exhibition.

“Daily, during my time spent making art outdoors, I notice the life around me – the plants and animals that share these places with me.”

Kurt Jackson

Insects and biodiversity

Scientists measure biodiversity by looking at the abundance and distribution of species.

  • Abundance describes how numerous species are. Because they are interested in changes over time, scientists often measure relative abundance: how numerous species are compared to a point of time in the past.
  • Distribution describes how wide the area is over which species are found. Relative distribution compares this to a point in the past.

Both these measures are important. For example, having large numbers of many different species (high abundance) is good, but if they are restricted to a small area (low distribution) then they are vulnerable.

Change in relative abundance of 76 moth species. Defra 2019.

Rather than trying to measure the numbers of all the plants and animals in a habitat, scientists often monitor indicator species. These are particular plants and animals that tell us about the health of whole ecosystems. Insects can be indicator species. For example,in the UK, the Department for Environment, food and Rural Affairs (Defra) monitors 76 species of moth (as well as many other plant and animal species).

Visiting the exhibition

You can visit the Biodiversity exhibition in the Main Court of the Museum until 15 May. Entrance is free and there is no need to book

Selection of insects from the collections of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

If you would like to investigate biodiversity where you live, take a look at some of our suggestions and resources for Finding and Identifying Insects.

We’d love to hear about what you find!

Butterfly Origami

Have a go at making an origami butterfly. Origami is the art of folding paper into shapes and decorations, that originated in Japan. All you need to make this origami butterfly is a square piece of paper and a spare few minutes:

Here are written instructions for making the origami butterfly, in addition to the video:

  1. Take a square piece of paper. Fold it diagonally, press along the fold, and unfold. Repeat the other way.
  2. Turn the piece of paper over. Fold the bottom edge to the top edge, press along the fold, and unfold. Fold the left edge to the right edge, press along the fold, and unfold.
  3. Fold the left edge to the right edge, allowing the other edges to fold inward along the creases. This will form a triangle shape.
  4. Fold the top layer from both bottom corners of the triangle towards the top corner, but each slightly to either side of that top corner. Press along the creases.
  5. Fold the bottom layer from the top of the triangle towards the bottom flat edge, so that it overlaps a little, and fold it over. Press carefully along the crease, as the bottom “wings” will be drawn up.
  6. Press along the middle crease to help keep the fold over in place.

We would love to see pictures of your creations, please do share them with us.