Biodiversity Hotspots and Conservation Priorities

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1 Chapter VII Biodiversity Hotspots and Conservation Priorities Why conservation efforts should be prioritized to certain zones A living fossil: Gymnocrinus richeri

2 Introduction Chapter VII: Biodiversity Hotspot and Conservation Priorities Despite that biodiversity losses are occurring everywhere on Earth, some areas which are both extraordinarily rich in life forms and particularly threatened from a number of sources have been identified. As a general trend, equatorial and tropical zones have a particularly rich biodiversity when compared to the rest of the word. The colder it gets, the less bio-diverse the ecosystems tend to be. Examples of biodiversity hotspots include the rainforest of Borneo and as a matter of fact most of the forests of Indonesia and Malaysia, Reef environments across tropical zones and many others. 18 principal biodiversity hotspots where conservation should be prioritized have been identified. The principal behind the concept of biodiversity hotspot comes from the fact that despite that all ecosystems on Earth should be preserved, only limited funds are available worldwide to undertake such needed actions. As such, it is necessary, in order to preserve as much biodiversity as possible, to focus on areas which are the most at risk and where the efforts will result in the greatest number of species saved. Often, loss of biodiversity arise from rapid deterioration of the environment in the pursue of the extraction of resources for immediate profit. One must however understand that such models are not sustainable. Once extinct, species have disappeared forever from the planet. Sylvain Richer de Forges 2010 Sylvain Richer de Forges. All rights reserved. 148

3 VII.1 (a) What is a Biodiversity Hotspot? A biodiversity hotspot is a biogeographic region with a significant reservoir of biodiversity that is threatened with destruction. The concept of biodiversity hotspots was originated by Dr. Norman Myers. The hotspots idea was also promoted by Russell Mittermeier in the popular book Hotspots Revisited (2004). To qualify as a biodiversity hotspot on Myers 2000 edition of the hotspot-map, a region must meet two strict criteria: it must contain at least 0.5% or 1,500 species of vascular plants as endemics, and it has to have lost at least 70% of its primary vegetation. Around the world, at least 25 areas qualify under this definition, with nine others possible candidates. These sites support nearly 60% of the world's plant, bird, mammal, reptile, and amphibian species, with a very high share of endemic species. Sylvain Richer de Forges 2010 Sylvain Richer de Forges. All rights reserved. 149

4 Source: Conservation International VII.1 (b) The above map shows the principal biodiversity hotspots which have been identified around the world. The above map shows that most biodiversity rich regions are in tropical and subtropical areas. South East Asia has numerous hotspots Sylvain Richer de Forges. All rights reserved. 150

5 VII.2 Case Study: Madagascar Madagascar, is the fourth-largest island in the world, and is home to 5% of the world's plant and animal species, of which more than 80% are endemic. Emblematic species includes the lemur, the carnivorous fossa, three bird families and six baobab species. Madagascar's long isolation from the neighboring continents has resulted in a unique mix of plants and animals, many found nowhere else in the world. Of the10,000 known plants native to Madagascar, 90% are found nowhere else in the world. Madagascar's varied fauna and flora are endangered by human activity, as a third of its native vegetation has disappeared since the 1970s, and only 18% remains intact. Since the arrival of humans 2000 years ago, Madagascar has lost more than 90% of its original forest Sylvain Richer de Forges. All rights reserved. 151

6 VII.3 (a) Case Study: Philippines The Philippines is one of the ten most biologically megadiverse countries and is at or near the top in terms of biodiversity per unit area. Around 1,100 land vertebrate species can be found in the Philippines including over 100 mammal species and 170 bird species not thought to exist elsewhere. With an estimated 13,500 plant species in the country, 3,200 of which are unique to the islands, Philippine rainforests boast an array of flora, including many rare types of orchids and Rafflesia. Philippine territorial waters encompass as much as 1.67 million square kilometers producing unique and diverse marine life and is an important part of the Coral Triangle. Deforestation, often the result of illegal logging, is an acute problem in the Philippines. Forest cover declined from 70% of the country's total land area in 1900 to about 18.3% in Many species are endangered and scientists say that South East Asia, which the Philippines is part of, faces a catastrophic extinction rate. According to Conservation International, the country is one of the few nations that is, in its entirety, both a hotspot and a megadiversity country, placing it among the top priority hotspots for global conservation Sylvain Richer de Forges. All rights reserved. 152

7 VII.3 (b) The Philippines is suffering from severe degradation of its biodiversity. Most of this occurs as a result of deforestation, trading of animal species and overexploitation of resources Sylvain Richer de Forges 2010 Sylvain Richer de Forges. All rights reserved. 153

8 VII.4 Case Study: Borneo Borneo is very rich in biodiversity compared to many other areas. There are about 15,000 species of flowering plants with 3,000 species of trees, 221 species of terrestrial mammals and 420 species of resident birds in Borneo. It is also the centre of evolution and radiation of many endemic species of plants and animals. The remaining Borneo rainforest is the only natural habitat for the endangered Bornean Orang-outang. It is also an important refuge for many endemic forest species, as the Asian Elephant, the Sumatran Rhinoceros, the Bornean Clouded Leopard, and the Dayak Fruit Bat. It is one of the most biodiverse places on earth. The World Wildlife Fund has stated that 361 animal and plant species have been discovered in Borneo since 1996, underscoring its unparalleled biodiversity Sylvain Richer de Forges. All rights reserved. 154

9 VII.5 (a) Case Study: Barrier Reefs The Australian Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,600 kilometres over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres. The reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland in north-east Australia. The Great Barrier Reef supports a diversity of life, including many vulnerable or endangered species, some of which are endemic to the reef system. The Great Barrier Reef has been classified as one of the great wonders of the world and is therefore a focus of attention. However, most reef ecosystems around the world and especially in the South Pacific are extremely rich in biodiversity. Such ecosystems are at risk from overexploitation, pollution and climate change. The loss of coral reefs would result in enormous biodiversity loss and potential destabilization of entire marine ecosystems. The preservation of coral reefs should be a high priority along with forest ecosystems to preserve the biodiversity of life on Earth. Sylvain Richer de Forges 2010 Sylvain Richer de Forges. All rights reserved. 155

10 VII 5 (b) Coral reefs are amongst the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth, yet some of the most threatened. Barrier reefs around the world contain an incredible amount of biodiversity of which most remains unknown to date. As we know that these ecosystems will be greatly affected by climate change and anthropic disturbances across the century and will suffer from massive biodiversity losses, efforts to study their biodiversity should be intensified while we still can. Sylvain Richer de Forges 2010 Sylvain Richer de Forges. All rights reserved. 156

11 VII.6 Case Study: The Galapagos The Galapagos islands are an archipelago located on the equator in the eastern Pacific ocean. They are composed of about 40 islands of volcanic origin. On these islands can be found the National Park of the Galapagos and a marine reserve which has been classified as a UNESCO world heritage site. In 1835 Charles Darwin studied its species diversity which inspire his famous study on evolution and natural selection in The islands are very rich in flora and fauna. The archipelago inhabits 58 species of birds among 28 are endemic and unique reptiles such as the iguana and giant turtles. The marine fauna is also very rich with over 300 species of fish and small mammals. The islands hold a variety of plant species which vary in accordance to different microclimates. Of the 875 known plant species, 228 are endemic Sylvain Richer de Forges. All rights reserved. 157

12 Conclusion Chapter VII As highlighted in this chapter, because some areas are much richer in biodiversity than others; some are more threatened and resources for conservation efforts are limited, the concept of biodiversity hotspots has been introduced. At least 18 such zones have been classified as biodiversity hotspots of which most of South East Asia and would therefore require much conservation efforts. However, all of these zones, despite their classification are still experiencing serious environmental pressures. If we are to succeed in preserving the biodiversity of life on Earth, our efforts should focus on these hotspots as a start. However, such efforts need to be done in parallel to global negotiation issues such as climate change and trade of illegal timber if significant benefits are to remain in the long term. Conservation is both a local and international issue. Sylvain Richer de Forges 2010 Sylvain Richer de Forges. All rights reserved. 158

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