Biodiversity hotspots

by Ruben Palacio

biodiversity hotspots

A biodiversity hotspot is a geographic area that due to its physical and biological characteristics has high levels of plant endemisms (1500+ vascular plants, 0.5% of the worlds total) and  has to have lost at least 70% of the original habitat. Currently there are  34 biodiversity hotspots and most of them are tropical, but some are not. Whoever the ones in the tropics have the highest rankings in endemisms.

Look at the map closely and you will see that Colombia is practically a hostpot all by itself.  We have the biggest biodiversity hotspot which is the Tropical Andes, and we also have the  Chocó Biogeographical Region.

The polar regions contain no hotspots, and a good example of a temperate hotspot is the Mediterranean Basin or the Cape Floristic Region of South Africa.

 Hotspot science is really interesting. In about only 2.3% of the world’s land surface, these areas held together at least 42% of all terrestrial vertebrates and 50% of all plant species.  If you thought Carlos Slim was a good example of wealth concentration, think again.  Also hotspot science is continuously advancing and the number of species is likely to go up. For example we know now that 29%  of the world’s freshwater fish species are hotspot endemics, with 55 percent of species occurring.

Not only biodiversity hotspots hold an incredible diversity of life; researchers have found there is a co-occurrence of linguistic and biological diversity, and hotspots hold at least 70% of all languages on earth. Human health depends on biodiversity and  the hotspots provide hydrological control, atmospheric regulation , food security, dietary health protection against infectious diseases among many others.

I want to check closer the hotspot criteria here. At the biological component the endemisms are measured with plants, not with any other life group. And you see that plant diversity is highly correlated to animal biodiversity. There is more food to chose, more niches, and more diversity of animal life. Also because these areas are severely threatened, they are perfect for conservation purposes. And there is a big conservation challenge.

As you can imagine, there is a huge problem with threatened species.  51% of mammals, 73% of birds and 77% of  amphibian species  are hotspot endemics. By the way,  the most threatened species are in the tropics, which are also the center of violent conflict, making the work very difficult for researchers and conservationists alike.

It’s just kind of hard to speak to people in arms and conservation depends primarily on the good will of people.  Nevertheless, careful regional planning has giving its fruits and the dedicated work of Conservation International, who work to stop the lose of biodiversity in the hotspots by defining targeted conservation outcomes like  ”Areas Protected” and “Corridors consolidated” outcomes.

 Biodiversity hotspots are not the ultimate system for accessing conservation priorities in our planet. We got for example WWF Ecoregions for conservation, and they include 4 terrestrial, 3 freshwater, and 4 marine habitat types.  However, I’m a huge fan of the hotspot concept and the work of Conservation International.  And because I’m most into plants, i find hotspots a real opportunity to me.  I would love in the future to do some work in these areas and maybe visit them all. I’ll keep you informed.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Acblue84 December 13, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Are the different hotspot colors used on the map representative of anything?

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