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What is a Biodiversity Hotspot?

California's coastal Floristic Province is threatened by future development.
New Zealand's varied and rich terrain make it a natural home for diverse species.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 14 August 2014
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A biodiversity hotspot is a region of the Earth that is extremely biologically diverse and also under severe threat due to habitat loss, climate change, or extensive species loss. Around 25 sites worldwide are recognized as such hotspots, and several organizations have made efforts to protect these sites. Guarding these regions from further damage is considered environmentally and culturally important, as they host organisms that are not found anywhere else on Earth.

There is some argument about how to define a biodiversity hotspot, with many definitions focusing heavily on vascular plants, sometimes at the expense of other living organisms. As a general rule, in order for a region to be included in this category, it must be biologically diverse, with a high proportion of species that are not found anywhere else on Earth, and the security of the region must be threatened. Losing more than 70% of native vegetation, for example, is a clear example of a threat.

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These regions can be found all over the world, and they vary considerably in size and composition. The California Floristic Province, for example, extends along the West Coast of North America, and covers both land and water, encompassing the rich ocean life off the coast along with the diverse plant and animal species found in California, Oregon, and Northern Mexico. The Succulent Karoo in Africa, on the other hand, covers a relatively small and extremely arid region, in marked contrast to the lush environments of sites like the Atlantic Forest in South America and the countries of New Zealand and Japan, both of which are considered biodiversity hotspots.

These regions contain around 60% of all of the species found on Earth, and because these species are endemic, damage to the regions could cause significant problems. Biodiversity as a whole on the Earth would decline, because many animals would vanish forever if their native habitats were severely compromised. In addition to being simply unfortunate, a decline in biodiversity could mean that humans might lose access to medically important plant species, among many other things.

Some hotspots have been protected through legislation or the acquisition of threatened regions by conservation organizations. Greater protection is needed for most of these regions, however, and some researchers would like to see the definition expanded to cover more areas in danger. The human populations that live near biodiversity hotspots also have a vested interest in the survival of these unique regions of the Earth, since many communities make their living from the diverse plant and animal life in such areas.

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Discuss this Article

anon166732
Post 3

one question: do we have any hotspots in the sea or rivers?

sherlock87
Post 2

Unfortunately, in a lot of the places that have biodiversity hotspots, people do not quite understand the importance of biodiversity. One example that comes to mind is the Amazon rain forest region, which has several; people have been overusing the lumber here for many years without realizing that there were long term negative effects. Even now there is proof that it damages the land, but people have paid less attention to the actual species losses.

widget2010
Post 1

The term biodiversity hot spot is getting thrown around a lot lately, I think, though with good reason. It sounds dangerous to lose, helping encourage people to want to protect it; at the same time, some others are throwing it around for the opposite reason, because it sounds melodramatic. It's good to know, though, that there really is a set list of definitions for it.

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