Almost every region of the world has at least one biodiversity hotspot, with a globe wide total of 34 biodiversity hotspots to date. These hotspots contain our richest biological treasures, but are the most at risk from human and natural abuses.
A biodiversity hotspot is an area that is particularly rich in plant and animal life, but is in grave threat of being destroyed. There are two major criteria for an area to be declared a biodiversity hotspot:
It must have at least 1,500 endemic species of vascular plants, giving it more than .5% of the world’s total of these plants, and must have lost a minimum of 70 percent of its original habitat. Further, the combined area of the world’s biodiversity hotspots only covers about 2.3% of Earth’s land surface.
A biodiversity hotspot does not arise out of a vacuum. While it can occur because of damage caused by man or by natural changes to the environment, the damage done by man is, by far, the greater threat.
There are currently four North/Central American biodiversity hotspots – The California Floristic Province, the Caribbean Islands, the Madrean Pine-Oak Woodlands, and Mesoamerica – and the first two are excellent examples of how these spots fare.
Home of the giant sequoia and the coastal redwood, the California Floristic Province is also the home of a number of threatened species, like the giant kangaroo rat and the desert slender salamander. Some of the last existing California condors also live here.
According to Conservation International’s Center for Applied Biodiversity Science, the bulk of the destruction here is caused by commercial farming, expansion of urban areas, pollution and road construction. There are currently 4 threatened species of birds, 5 of mammals, and 8 of amphibians.
The Caribbean Islands are three large groups of islands in the ocean between North and South America: The Bahamas, the Lesser Antilles, and the Greater Antilles. While the majority of this biodiversity hotspot is ocean, approximately 89,000 square miles is land.
Elevations vary from about two miles to about minus a quarter of a mile below sea level. The low-lying islands are generally semi-arid and sustain scrub lands, but the trade winds tend to make the higher elevations wetter, allowing a much greater variety of forestland.
Both scrub land and forest have been decimated by deforestation and encroachment of civilization. Threatened species include giant shrews, and the Cuban crocodile. There are currently 48 threatened species of birds, 18 of mammals, and 143 of amphibians.
These are just the biodiversity hotspots in our own backyard, so to speak. It is clearly of the utmost importance to prevent further damage to any biodiversity hotspot, because they not only provide information to prevent disease, and sustain many forms of life besides humans, but because they are – in and of themselves – some of the planet’s greatest treasures.