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INTRODUCTION TO BIO DIVERSITY HOTSPOTS

Life on Earth faces a crisis of historical and planetary proportions. Unsustainable consumption in many northern countries and crushing poverty in the tropics are destroying wild nature. Biodiversity is besieged.Extinction is the gravest aspect of the biodiversity crisis: it is irreversible. While extinction is a natural process, human impacts have elevated the rate of extinction by at least a thousand, possibly several thousand, times the natural rate. Mass extinctions of this magnitude have only occurred five times in the history of our planet; the last brought the end of the dinosaur age. In a world where conservation budgets are insufficient given the number of species threatened with extinction, identifying conservation priorities is crucial. British ecologist Norman Myers defined the biodiversity hotspot concept in 1988 to address the dilemma that conservationists face: what areas are the most immediately important for conserving biodiversity?The biodiversity hotspots hold especially high numbers of endemic species, yet their combined area of remaining habitat covers only 2.3 percent of the Earth's land surface. Each hotspot faces extreme threats and has already lost at least 70 percent of its original natural vegetation. Over 50 percent of the worlds plant species and 42 percent of all terrestrial vertebrate species are endemic to the 34 biodiversity hotspots. A biodiversity hotspot is a biogeographic region with a significant reservoir of biodiversity that is under threat from humans. The concept of biodiversity hotspots was originated by Norman Myers in two articles in The Environmentalist (1988),[1] & 1990[2] revised after thorough analysis by Myers and others in Hotspots: Earths Biologically Richest and Most Endangered Terrestrial Ecoregions.[3] 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.[4] 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.

What are vascular plants? They are a category of high plant that assures the circulation of nutrients such as water, mineral and photosynthetic product. They have vascular tissues that allow them to reach larger size. They conduct the water and nutrients from bottom to top, and end up in transpiration, absorption or conduction. In this way, vascular plants assure great productivity to the ecosystem. The term endemics mean that the species is unique to the ecological area and it wont be found elsewhere due to geographical isolation, such as an island. Secondly, to be considered as a hotspot, 70 percent of the habitat in the spotted area must be lost, meaning that most of the living species disappeared. The lost of species comes frequently from overconsumption and from the destruction of natural forest for agriculture. The isolated situation makes it very vulnerable, since there is no possibility of reproduction in case of extinction. Overall, the hotpots gather the most important population that faces extinction on the planet. There are 25 areas in the world that correspond to this definition of biodiversity hotspots. All together, they possess 44 percent of the Earths high plants on only 11.8 percent of the planets surface and they have lost more then 87 percent of their original habitat. Those spots also contained 35 percent of all land vertebrate species. 9 others could possibly be add to the list, which bring the repartition to 4 areas in North and Central America, 5 in South America, 4 in Europe and Central Asia, 9 in Africa and 13 in Asia-Pacific.

The biodiversity hotspots by region

Biodiversity hotspots.

North and Central America


California Floristic Province Caribbean Islands Madrean pine-oak woodlands Mesoamerica

South America

Atlantic Forest Cerrado Chilean Winter Rainfall-Valdivian Forests Tumbes-Choc-Magdalena Tropical Andes

Europe and Central Asia


Caucasus Irano-Anatolian Mediterranean Basin Mountains of Central Asia

Africa

Cape Floristic Region Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa Eastern Afromontane Guinean Forests of West Africa Horn of Africa Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany Succulent Karoo

South Asia

Eastern Himalaya, India Indo-Burma, India and Myanmar Western Ghats, India Sri Lanka

East Asia and Asia-Pacific


East Melanesian Islands Japan Mountains of Southwest China New Caledonia New Zealand Philippines Polynesia-Micronesia Southwest Australia Sundaland Wallacea

The Western Ghats and Sri Lanka

The Lion tailed macaque is a flagship species of the Western Ghats

About the region: The Western Ghats are a chain of hills that run along the western edge of peninsular India. Their proximity to the ocean and through orographic effect, they receive high rainfall. These regions have moist deciduous forest and rain forest. The region shows high species diversity as well as high levels of endemism. Nearly 77% of the amphibians and 62% of the reptile species found here are found nowhere else.[15]. Sri Lanka, which lies to the south of India, is also a country rich in species diversity. It has been connected with India through several past glaciation events by a land bridge almost 140km wide. How the biodiversity of Western Ghats originated is a still a puzzle. The region shows biogeographical affinities to the Malayan region. More recent phylogeographic studies have attempted to study the origin of Western Ghats using molecular approaches.[17] There are also differences in taxa which are dependent on time of divergence and geological history. [18] Along with Sri Lanka, this region also shows some faunal similarities with the Madagascan region especially in the reptiles and amphibians. Examples include the Sibynophis snakes, the Purple Frog and Sri Lankan lizard genus Nessia which appears similar to the Madagascan genusAcontias.[19] Numerous floral links to the Madagascan region also exist.[20] An alternate hypothesis that these taxa may have originally evolved out-of-India has also been suggested.[21] Biogeographical quirks exist with some taxa of Malayan origin occurring in Sri Lanka but absent in the Western Ghats. These include insects groups such as the zoraptera and plants such as those of the genus Nepenthes.

Biodiversity: There are over 6000 vascular plants belonging to over 2500 genera in this hotspot, of which over 3000 are endemic. Much of the world's spices such as black

pepper and cardamom have their origins in the Western Ghats. The highest concentration of species in the Western Ghats is believed to be the Agasthyamalai Hills in the extreme south. The region also harbors over 450 bird species, about 140 mammalian species, 260 reptiles and 175 amphibians. Over 60% of the reptiles and amphibians are completely endemic to the hotspot. Remarkable as this diversity is, it is severely threatened today. The vegetation in this hotspot originally extended over 190,000 square kms. Today, its been reduced to just 43,000 sq. km. In Sri Lanka, only 1.5% of the original forest cover still remains.

The Eastern Himalayas

The Indian Rhinoceros is one of the 45 species of globally threatened mammals found in the Eastern Himalayas.

About the region: The Eastern Himalayas is the region encompassing Bhutan, northeastern India, and southern, central, and eastern Nepal. The region is geologically young and shows high altitudinal variation. Together, the Himalayan mountain system is the world's highest, and home to the world's highest peaks, which include Mount Everest and K2. To comprehend the enormous scale of this mountain range, consider that Aconcagua, in the Andes, at 6962 metres is the highest peak outside Asia, whereas the Himalayan system includes over 100 mountains exceeding 7200 metres[22]. Some of the world's major river systems arise in the Himalayas, and their combined drainage basin is home to some 3 billion people (almost half of Earth's population) in 18 countries. The Himalayas have profoundly shaped the cultures ofSouth Asia; many Himalayan peaks are sacred in Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.

Geologically, the origin of the Himalayas is the impact of the Indian tectonic platetraveling northward at 15cm per year to impact the Eurasian continent, about 40-50 million years ago. The formation of the Himalayan arc resulted since the lighter rock of the seabeds of that time were easily uplifted into mountains. An often-cited fact used to illustrate this process is that the summit of Mount Everest is made of marine limestone.[23] Biodiversity: The Eastern Himalayan hotspot has nearly 163 globally threatened species including the One-horned Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), the Wild Asian Water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis (Arnee)) and in all 45 mammals, 50 birds, 17 reptiles, 12 amphibians, 3 invertebrate and 36 plant species[24][25] The Relict Dragonfly (Epiophlebia laidlawi) is an endangered species found here with the only other species in the genus being found in Japan. The region is also home to the Himalayan Newt (Tylototriton verrucosus), the only salamander species found within Indian limits.[26] There are an estimated 10,000 species of plants in the Himalayas, of which one-third are endemic and found nowhere else in the world. Five families - Tetracentraceae, Hamamelidaceae, Circaesteraceae, Butomaceae and Stachyuraceae - are completely endemic to this region. Many plant species are found even in the highest reaches of the Himalayan mountains. For example, a plant species Ermania himalayensis was found at an altitude of 6300 metres in northwestern Himalayas![27]. A few threatened endemic bird species such as theHimalayan Quail, Cheer pheasant, Western tragopan are found here, alongwith some of Asia's largest and most endangered birds such as the Himalayan vulture and White-bellied heron.

The Saola, a bovine, is one of the world's rarest mammals. It was discovered in Vietnam only in 1992

The Himalayas are home to over 300 species of mammals, a dozen of which are endemic. Mammals like the Golden langur, The Himalayan tahr, the pygmy hog, Langurs, Asiatic wild dogs, sloth bears,Gaurs, Muntjac, Sambar, Snow leopard, Black bear, Blue sheep, Takin,

the Gangetic dolphin, wild water buffalo, swamp deer call the Himalayan ranged their home. The only endemic genus in the hotspot is the Namadapha flying squirrel which is critically endangered and is described only from a single specimen from Namdapha National Park.

Indo-Burma
About the region: The Indo-Burma region encompasses several countries. It is spread out from Eastern Bangladesh to Malaysia and includes North-Eastern India south of Brahmaputra river, Myanmar, the southern part of China's Yunnan province, Lao Peoples Democratic Republic,Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. The Indo-Burma region is spread over 2 million sq. km of tropical Asia. Since this hotspot is spread over such a large area and across several major landforms, there is a wide diversity of climate and habitat patterns in this region. Biodiversity: Much of this region is still a wilderness, but has been deteriorating rapidly in the past few decades. In recent times, six species of large mammals have been discovered here: Large-antlered muntjac, Annamite muntjac, Grey-shanked douc, Annamite striped rabbit, Leaf deer, and the Saola. This region is home to several primate species such as monkeys , langurs and gibbons with populations numbering only in the hundreds. Many of the species, especially some freshwater turtle species, are endemic. Almost 1,300 bird species exist in this region including the threatened white-eared night-heron, the grey-crowned crocias, and the orangenecked partridge. It is estimated that there are about 13,500 plant species in this hotspot, with over half of them endemic. Ginger, for example, is native to this region.]

Reasons for biodiversity loss in hotspots


There are four main reasons why species are being threatened in these biodiversity hotspots 1. Habitat destruction: As recently as 30 years ago, most of the regions in these biodiversity hotspots were inaccessible and remote. Now, due to better infrastructure, contact of these areas with humans has increased. Activities such as logging of wood, increased agriculture, increased human habitation has led to destruction of forests and pollution of rivers. These factors are causing species ranges to reduce and habitats to become choppy. The government planned to establish habitat corridors, but these plans

have not yet materialized in most areas. Activities such as mining, construction of large dams, highway construction has also caused significant destruction of habitats[29]. 2. Resource mismanagement: Increased tourism without proper regulation has led to pollution and environmental degradation. Prime example are pilgrimage destinations like Rishikesh and hill stations like Dehradoon. These spots, once nestled in the pristine ranges of the Himalayas, are now dirty commercial destinations. Places like Dehradoon are even experiencing a construction boom so large that illegal immigrants from Bangladesh are also flocking there[30]. Religious destinations in the Himalayas, where devotees flock in millions now, are also hot destinations for medicinal plant trade, which has threatened plant life in the area. 3. Poaching: Large mammals such as the tiger, rhinoceros and the elephant once faced the distinct possibility of complete extinction due to rampant hunting and poaching. However, efforts by conservationists since the 1970s has helped stabilize and grow these populations. Still, the trade in tiger hide, elephant tusks, tiger teeth, rhinoceros horn remains profitable and rampant[31][32].
4.

Climate change: Although dire IPCC predictions of Himalayan glaciers melting by 2035 have been retracted[33], there is no doubt that several Himalayan glaciers are melting[34][35]. In the Western Ghats, studies have shown that the deciduous and the evergreen forests of Karnataka are the most at risk[36][37]. Climate change may significantly affect the temperatures, rainfalls and water tables in the Western Ghats, according to an assessment by the Government of India.

Recent extinctions

Illustration of a Himalayan Quailfrom A. O. Hume's work. Last seen in 1876

The exploitation of land and forest resources by humans along with hunting and trapping for food and sport has led to the extinction of many species in India in recent times. These species include mammals such as the Indian / Asiatic Cheetah, Javan Rhinoceros and Sumatran Rhinoceros.[38]While some of these large mammal species are confirmed extinct, there have been many smaller animal and plant species whose status is harder to determine. Many species have not been seen since their description. Hubbardia heptaneuron, a species of grass that grew in the spray zone of the Jog Falls prior to the construction of the Linganamakki reservoir, was thought to be extinct but a few were rediscovered near Kolhapur in Maharashtra.[39] Some species of birds have gone extinct in recent times, including the Pink-headed Duck (Rhodonessa caryophyllacea) and theHimalayan Quail (Ophrysia superciliosa). A species of warbler, Acrocephalus orinus, known earlier from a single specimen collected byAllan Octavian Hume from near Rampur in Himachal Pradesh was rediscovered after 139 years in Thailand

Hotspot conservation initiatives


Only a small percentage of the total land area within biodiversity hotspots is now protected. Several international organizations are working in many ways to conserve biodiversity hotspots.

Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) is a global program that provides funding and technical assistance to nongovernmental organizations and participation to protect the Earth's richest regions of plant and animal diversity including: biodiversity hotspots, high-biodiversity wilderness areas and important marine regions. CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents, with headquarters near Washington, D.C.[5]

The World Wildlife Fund has derived a system called the Global 200 Ecoregions, the aim of which is to select priority Ecoregions for conservation within each of 14 terrestrial, 3 freshwater, and 4 marine habitat types. They are chosen for their species richness, endemism, taxonomic uniqueness, unusual ecological or evolutionary

phenomena, and global rarity. All biodiversity hotspots contain at least one Global 200 Ecoregion.

Birdlife International has identified 218 Endemic Bird Areas (EBAs) each of which hold two or more bird species found nowhere else. Birdlife International has identified more than 11,000 Important Bird Areas[6] all over the world.

Plantlife International coordinates several projects around the world aiming to identify Important Plant Areas.

Alliance for Zero Extinction is an initiative of a large number of scientific organizations and conservation groups who co-operate to focus on the most threatened endemic species of the world. They have identified 595 sites, including a large number of Birdlife s Important Bird Areas.

The National Geographic Society has prepared a world map[7] of the hotspots and ArcView shapefile and metadata for the Biodiversity Hotspots[8] including details of the individual endangered fauna in each hotspot, which is available from Conservation International.[9]

These initiatives are all based on scientific criteria and quantitative thresholds.