Historically, views and measurements of biodiversity have had a narrow focus, for instance, characterizing the attributes of observable patterns but affording less attention to processes. Here, we explore the question: how does a systems thinking view – one where the world is seen as elements and processes that connect and interact in dynamic ways to form a whole – affect the way we understand biodiversity and practice conservation? We answer this question by illustrating the systemic properties of biodiversity at multiple levels, and show that biodiversity is a collection of dynamic systems linking seemingly disparate biological and cultural components and requiring an understanding of the system as a whole. We conclude that systems thinking calls traditional views of species, ecosystem function, and human relationships with the rest of biodiversity into question. Finally, we suggest some of the ways in which this view can impact the science and practice of conservation, particularly through affecting our conservation targets and strategies.