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Biodiversity hotspots are regions of the world that contain a high number of unique and threatened species. Vulnerability refers to the susceptibility of these species to different threats, such as habitat destruction, climate change, and over-exploitation. Conservation priorities are the actions that need to be taken to protect and preserve these species and their habitats.
Biodiversity loss is currently a major environmental concern worldwide. As climate change and global warming continue to affect the planet, experts are still unsure how many species are under threat. Political leaders and decision-makers are not prioritizing the conservation of species enough. The world continues to ignore this serious situation.
Identifying and protecting vulnerable biodiversity hotspots is an effective way to conserve species. Approximately 44 percent of all species of vascular plants and 35 percent of all species in four vertebrate groups inhabit 25 hotspots covering just 1.4 percent of the planet’s land surface. Conservation in these areas can help support endangered animal and plant species. This article will focus on biodiversity hotspots’ vulnerability and conservation priorities.
The term biodiversity hotspot arose to identify high-priority areas for species, habitat protection, and conservation. There are currently 34 biodiversity hotspots that have been identified by conservation organizations such as Conservation International. These hotspots are located in different parts of the world and contain a wide variety of plants and animals, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth.
Certain areas around the world still maintain stable temperatures even while temperatures increase and climate change worsens. These areas provide vital safe havens for species, enabling them to grow and flourish for new lineages to spawn.
Main hotspots of biodiversity for three classes of animals- birds, mammals, and amphibians- occur in areas that maintain relatively stable temperatures. These safe haven hotspots are severely threatened by human-induced climate change. Any change in the temperatures or rainfall in these areas could lead to the extinction of several rare and important species.
According to studies, around 48 percent of these hotspots were characterized by stable temperatures and unstable precipitation conditions. As the end of the 21st-century approaches, estimates suggest that approximately 55 percent of ocean and land characterized by stable temperatures in the past will likely become unstable.
Tropical areas will likely see losses of over 42 per cent of climatic regions in terrestrial areas with stable temperatures and unstable precipitation conditions. These losses will likely impact the biodiversity in hotspots.
One of the main threats to biodiversity hotspots is habitat destruction, which can be caused by activities such as logging, agriculture, and urbanization. Climate change also poses a significant threat to many species, as it can alter the conditions of their habitats and disrupt their interactions with other species.
All species on this planet have a role to play in the ecosystem. If a certain species goes extinct, its particular role in the ecosystem is lost forever, leading to imbalances within ecosystems, food chains, etc. Suppose the diversity is high in a specific area, such as in biodiversity hotspots. In that case, it is more likely that there will be another species in the ecosystem that can perform the role of the extinct species. Thus, it is clear that diversity increases the resilience and stability of an area.
Organisms and the roles they play in ecosystems lead to the many benefits that ecosystems give to humans. These benefits include food, medicines, and processes like air and water purification, seed dispersal, carbon sequestration, and coastline stabilization. The loss of biodiversity and its hotspots could result in the loss of these essential benefits. Thus, it is important to conserve them.
How do we save species threatened by the increasing effects of climate change? As mentioned in the beginning, identifying areas with high concentrations of endemic species and increasing loss of habitat is important in conserving biodiversity. Conservation efforts in these areas would significantly help reduce the number of extinctions that are currently taking place.
According to scientists, an area must fulfil certain conditions to be called a biodiversity hotspot. The area must have a certain number of species that are endemic to it, and it must have lost over 70 per cent of its native ecosystems and habitats. Thus, areas with these criteria will be prioritized for conservation and protection.
Labelling certain areas as biodiversity hotspots is done as a way to prioritize funds put toward conservation. The concept is such that spending money to preserve these areas has the highest positive result for a given amount of money. In total, there are 36 biodiversity hotspots around the world. Some of them include the Guinean forests of Western Africa, the Horn of Africa, Succulent Karou, Eastern Afro-Montane, South Africa’s Cape floristic hotspot, Madagascar, and the Indian Ocean Islands.
The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) is a muti-donor fund that enables private organizations and NGOs to conserve the world’s biodiversity hotspots by awarding grants. Its grantees work in transitional and developing nations in biodiversity hotspots around the globe.
The CEPF’s grantees are partners to multilateral entities and governments in meeting commitments to global agreements, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
The CEPF has funded conservation efforts in 25 of the 36 biodiversity hotspots. For example, the Mediterranean Basin. Ranging from west to east, from Portugal to Jordan, and north to south from Italy to Morocco, this hotspot is the second largest in the world. This hotspot is home to several unique reptiles and is considered one of the most crucial areas on the planet for endemic plants. Due to the hotspot’s popularity with tourists, its habitats are becoming smaller and smaller to make way for tourist development and infrastructure. Conservation efforts in these areas are thus necessary.
It’s worth noting that the conservation of biodiversity hotspots requires a global effort, as many of these areas are located in developing countries and are facing a variety of social, economic, and political challenges.