What Is A Biodiversity Hotspot?

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A canopy walk through the species rich rainforest of the Amazon.

A biodiversity hotspot is a biogeographic area notable for sustaining significant levels of biological diversity and which is threatened by destructive activities. Biodiversity hotspots are home to unique flora and fauna, most of which are endemic to the particular environment. These regions have been identified as some of the world’s most important ecosystems.

Origin Of The Concept

The biodiversity hotspot concept first appeared in an article written by the scientist Norman Myers in 1988. Myers, together with other researchers, built up upon and revised the article culminating in “Hotspots: Earth’s biologically richest and most endangered terrestrial ecoregion” in 1990. For a region to be recognized as a biodiversity hotspot, it must meet two criteria. First, 1,500 or more of the vascular plant species found in the territory must be endemic. Vascular plants are critical to the sustainability of the ecosystem since they allow the circulation of water, photosynthetic product, and minerals. Secondly, the territory must have lost 70% or more of its original habitat. This situation translates to the loss of some of the region’s living species. Only 36 territories around the world meet these requirements, and they are home to nearly 60% of the world’s flora and fauna.

Examples Of Biodiversity Hotspots

One of the most notable biodiversity hotspots in Africa is the Guinean forests of West Africa. The forests stretch along the coast of West Africa through several nations including Guinea, Sierra Leone, Gabon, Cameroon, Liberia, Benin, Equatorial Guinea, and Ghana. Nearly ten ecoregions have been identified in the vast ecosystem. This hotspot is continuously threatened by agriculture, human encroachment, urban development, and political instability. The Atlantic Forest in South America is another example of a biodiversity hotspot. The forest is located along the Atlantic coasts of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. More than 11,000 flora and fauna species found in the forest are threatened while about 250 species of mammals, amphibians, and birds have been rendered extinct by human activity. The Mediterranean basin is another hotspot, and it covers the continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa. It hosts different habitats ranging from forests, grasslands, woodlands, scrublands, savanna, and shrubland. 22,500 vascular plants have been identified as being endemic to the territory.

Threats And Conservation Efforts

Biodiversity hotspots face numerous threats from human activities. In many parts of the world, the population is on the rise leading people to clear natural habitats for agricultural development and settlement. Commercial development has also led to habitat loss and fragmentation. Urban infrastructure including buildings, roads, railways, and dams have altered the natural landscape in some parts of the world. Urban tourism has become increasingly popular, and it puts pressure on the fragile ecosystems. Freshwater habitats face their gravest threats from pollution and sedimentation. Overfishing has dramatically reduced populations of certain fish species in different parts of the world. Invasive flora and fauna species, some of which were introduced by humans, have had adverse effects on ecosystems since they compete for resources with the native species. Deforestation, fires, over-consumption of living species, and hunting are other threats to biodiversity hotspots. Only small regions out of the total area covered by biodiversity hotspots in the world are currently protected. Some global organizations including Conservation International, the World Wide Fund for Nature, Alliance for Zero Extinction, and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund have implemented efforts to conserve different biodiversity hotspots.

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