The word “biodiversity” describes the richness of an area in terms of its genes, species and ecosystems. Places with the highest levels of biodiversity in the world tend to be concentrated in tropical and sub-tropical regions.
Sadly, human activity has seen typical extinction rates increase by 100 to 10 000 times, mainly due to the destruction of habitat. To focus protection efforts, Conservation International has identified 25 biodiversity “hotspots”, areas which contain more than 1500 endemic plant species and which have lost more than 70% of the original habitat.
Biodiversity hotspots – and where to see them
Here is a list of 10 of these hotspots, where biodiversity is both richest and most threatened:
#1: Atlantic Forest – Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina
Originally this biodiversity hotspot extended over 1.2 million km2, but sugar and coffee plantations have ravaged the forest, leaving less than 0.1 million km2. The hotspot is home to 8 000 endemic plant species and almost 950 birds. The Black-faced Lion Tamarin is just one of the 25 critically endangered species in the forest.
- See it: Discovery Coast Atlantic Forest Reserves, Brazil
#2: Cape Floral Region – South Africa
Located in the Western Cape, this hotspot has the world’s highest concentration of different plant species per square kilometer – even higher than the Amazon. Of the 9 000 different plant species, about 6 210 are endemic, and 1 435 have been identified as threatened. The Cape Floral Region is also home to the geometric tortoise and the Cape sugar-bird.
- See it: Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, South Africa
#3: Cerrado – Brazil
The Cerrado is the largest woodland savannah in South America, supporting 4 400 endemic plant species and 10 threatened endemic bird species. The giant anteater, giant armadillo and jaguar are amongst the larger mammals found in this hotspot. The Cerrado has shrunk in size from over 2 million km2 to less than 450 000 km2 due to the clearing of land for grazing and growing crops for animal feed.
- See it: Chapada dos Veadeiros and Emas National Parks, Brazil
#4: Coastal Forests – Eastern Africa
This hotspot consists of a long, narrow corridor along the eastern coast of Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique. It is home to the Tana River red colobus and the Tana River mangabey, two critically endangered primates. The coastal forests are threatened by rampant agricultural expansion.
- See it: Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve, Kenya
#5: Himalaya – Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China
The Himalaya hotspot extends over 185 427 km2 of mountains, alpine meadows, alluvial grasslands and subtropical broadleaf forests. Though the area originally was almost four times larger, significant populations of tigers, wild water buffalo, elephants and vultures still survive here.
- See it: Chitwan National Park, Nepal
#6: Indo-Burma – Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, India, China
Located in tropical Asia, this hotspot is the site of 7 000 endemic plant species, as well as many threatened endemic birds (10 species), mammals (25 species) and amphibians (35 species). Over 2.2 million km2 of the original habitat has already been lost. Yet new species are still being discovered today, such as the large-antlered muntjac and the Annamite striped rabbit. Indo-Burma also hosts an incredible array of freshwater turtle species.
- See it: Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries, Thailand
#7: Madrean Pine-Oak Woodlands, Mexico
This hotspot is a mountainous area that originally extended 461 265 km2 across Mexico and part of southern USA. Excessive logging has seen the woodlands diminish to a fifth of their size. Almost 4 000 endemic plant species can be found here, and the hotspot is famous for the millions of monarch butterflies that migrate through the region.
- See it: Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, Mexico
#8: Mesoamerica – Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvedor, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama
The Mesoamerican forests are both sub-tropical and tropical ecosystems known for spectacular numbers of endemic species of birds, amphibians and mammals, as well as an astonishing 17 000 plant species. The forests are the native of home of the quetzel and howler monkey. Originally extending over 1 million km2, the hotspot has fallen to about 226 000 km2 in size.
- See it: Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve, Honduras
#9: Polynesia-Micronesia, Southern Pacific Ocean
Covering an area the size of Switzerland, the Polynesia-Micronesia hotspot includes coral atolls, coastal wetlands, tropical rainforests and savannas. It is described by Conservation International as “the epicentre of the current global extinction crisis”, with 25 bird species extinct in 200 years due to overhunting and invasive species, and a further 90 endemic bird species threatened.
- See it: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
#10: Philippines, Pacific Ocean
One of the places richest in biodiversity is the Philippines hotspot, which includes over 7 100 islands in the Pacific. The hotspot is home to 6 000 endemic plant species and a multitude of bird species, such as the Cebu flowerpecker and the Philippine eagle.
- See it: Batanes Protected Landscapes and Seascapes, Philippines
Published on Jacaranda FM’s website on 2 April 2012