We hear a lot about diversity in our society. We understand diversity in humans to mean how we speak different languages, eat different foods, have different value systems or how we look different. Many types of scientists study diversity, like anthropologists who study social relationships, linguists who study languages, and dieticians who study nutrition. Biologists are mostly concerned with the genetic diversity between populations. When we consider biomes, now we’re concerned with the diversity among populations in an ecosystem.
What does this all mean? Well, different populations make different adaptations to their environment. If we’re studying the tundra, all living things need to deal with the cold. A polar bear will gain more fat in order to keep its heat inside; an arctic fox will keep warm blood from reaching its feet so that it doesn’t lose heat to the ground; shrubs will grow a protective coating around their stems to protect them from low temperatures and high winds. All of these adaptations allow these living things to live in the tundra.
You can see how diversity and adaptations are linked together: organisms find diverse ways to adapt to their environments. We can even introduce another concept that we’ve learned, natural selection! The organisms that are able to adapt better to their environment survive better, which means that they are more likely to reproduce.
If we go back to the example of the butterflies and birds, it’s completely possible that there were no blue and black butterflies a few weeks before we visited the field. It’s very likely that among the thousands of butterflies, some mutations will happen: one of them happened to change the color of the butterfly from yellow to blue. This caused the butterfly population to have higher diversity. When birds started to hunt the yellow and black butterflies, the population adapted to the change in the environment by favoring the blue and black butterflies. Natural selection happened when those blue and black butterflies reproduced, eventually making more that had the same coloring!