Recently, I answered this question for my final exam in ecology. It would have been rather easy to articulate the definitions of these concepts in the academic/scientific jargon, but the prompt was more complicated: I had to explain these concepts to a public of presumably high school education! So I did. And I got an excellent grade!

What does productivity mean? People are productive when they take (usually raw) materials and convert them to something new. Likewise, plants are productive when they use energy from the sun to create something useful for them and for the entire system that humans are also part of. Through this process, plants offer oxygen and materials (called “biomass”) such as wood and food to people and to other living organisms, for instance they provide food to animals. Some parts of the world (forests, prairies) are more productive than others (deserts, lakes). The importance of productivity is self-evident, if for example you think of a world without bees: plants will not bear flowers and seeds, and eventually will not produce food.

Biodiversity is the variety of animal and plant species in an ecosystem (a forest, a river, the ocean, the Earth) and also the relations among these species that ensure they continue to exist. This concept is directly linked to productivity: the higher the number of different animals and different plants in a forest, the more wood and food this forest produces.

As for resilience, it can be better explained through an example: a forest that is healthy, strong, and diverse (for example, if it doesn’t have only coniferous trees) can manage a risk more easily than a vulnerable forest without these qualities. Resilient systems are more flexible and durable; they are usually more able to deal with a danger (e.g. a disease) and adapt to changes (e.g. rising temperatures).

All three concepts are currently facing risks mostly due to climate change and human activities: we overharvest fish or wood, destroy or degrade forests by putting fires or the sea by polluting it, and allow or even facilitate plants or animals to occupy and damage areas in which they don’t originally belong. A non-resilient forest will not be so productive if it is disrupted by a wildfire; local communities will be affected because of the decrease of timber production and the global community will feel the negative impact of the hazardous gas emissions that are associated with forest fires.