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Madagascar and its neighboring island groups have an
astounding total of eight plant families, four bird families,
and five primate families that live nowhere else on Earth.
Madagascar’s more than 50 lemur species are the island’s
charismatic worldwide ambassadors for conservation,
although, tragically, 15 more species have been driven to
extinction since humans arrived.
The Seychelles, Comoros and Mascarene islands in the
Indian Ocean between them support a number of Critically
Endangered bird species. The Seychelles are also home to
the only endemic family of amphibians: the Sooglossidae,
and the Aldabra giant tortoise, one of the regions most
heralded endemic reptiles.
A series of islands scattered in the western Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa forms the Madagascar
and the Indian Ocean Islands hotspot. Dominated by the nation of Madagascar, the fourth largest island on Earth,
the hotspot also includes the independent nations of Seychelles (including Aldabra), the Comoros, Mauritius
(including Rodrigues), and the French overseas departments of Réunion, Mayotte (one of the Comoros) and the
Iles Esparses around Madagascar.
Because Madagascar and the continental Seychelles broke off from the Gondwanaland supercontinent more than
160 million years ago, the hotspot is a living example of species evolution in isolation. Despite close proximity to
Africa, the islands do not share any of the typical animal groups of nearby Africa. Instead, they have evolved an
exquisitely unique assemblage of species, with high levels of genus- and family-level endemism, in only 1.9
percent of the land area of continental Africa.
The natural vegetation of this hotspot is quite diverse. On Madagascar, tropical rainforests along the eastern
escarpment and in the eastern lowlands give way to western dry deciduous forests along the western coast. A
unique spiny desert covers the extreme south. The island is also host to several high mountain ecosystems such
as Tsaratanana and Andringitra massifs, which are characterized by forest with moss and lichens. The Sambirano
region, a northern transition zone between the western dry forest and the eastern rainforest that has
many of its own endemic species.
The Indian Ocean islands are composed of a range of relatively recent volcanic islands (the Mascarenes and the
Comoros), fragments of continental material (the main group of the Seychelles), and the coral cays of the
Amirantes and the atolls of the Farquhar, Cosmoledo, and Aldabra groups, as well as the five Iles Eparses. The
volcanic islands have high peaks that in the recent past were covered by dense forest; indeed, the Comoros and
the Mascarenes are sometimes subjected to very high levels of rainfall (up to 6,000 millimeters per year on
Réunion). The highest peak in the Indian Ocean is the Piton des Neiges on Réunion (3,069 meters), which
received the heaviest downpour on record (4.9 meters of rain in one week in 1980). By contrast, the continental
Seychelles are relatively dry with a relatively low altitude reaching only 914 meters at its highest in Mourne
Seychellois National Park.
Taxonomic Group Species Endemic Species Percent Endemism
Freshwater Fishes
Ironically, the isolation that allowed Madagascar and its neighboring islands to evolve a diverse and unique fauna
and flora also contributed to its environmental degradation. Because humans did not arrive on the islands until
1,500-2,000 years ago, native animals were naïve and easily slaughtered by the colonists. The islands' location off
the coast of Africa made them important stopping off points on trade routes and havens for pirates. On the
Mascarenes, there is evidence to suggest that the extinction spasm of much of the native megafauna was directly
related to hunting.
The Malagasy people came to Madagascar from Africa and Asia and imported agricultural methods, like rice
cultivation, slash-and-burn agriculture, and cattle grazing, which are inappropriate for infertile, lateritic soils and
devastating to the fragile ecosystems of the island. The central plateau of Madagascar is almost completely
deforested - a lifeless moonscape of infertile, baked red earth. It is estimated that only about 17 percent of the
original vegetation of Madagascar remains, with most remaining forests found along the eastern, western, and
southern coasts. In the Comoros, which had the fourth highest deforestation rate in the world in the early 1990s
(5.8 percent per annum), natural forests have been largely replaced with plantations, and the islands have lost at
least 80 percent of their native vegetation. On the Seychelles, lowland forests have been cleared for timber
production and agriculture, particularly for coconut plantations and cinnamon exploitation.
Mauritius has one of the highest human population densities in the world at 538 persons per square kilometer. In
comparison, the nearly 18 million people who live in Madagascar today do not represent a very large number
considering the land area of the island. However, the population is growing at more than 3 percent per year and is
expected to double by the year 2025. In an area that is already one of the most economically disadvantaged in the
world, this growth rate is putting tremendous pressure on the natural environment. In addition to agriculture,
hunting and timber extraction, industrial and small-scale mining are growing threats.
On the other Indian Ocean Islands, these same threats have been exacerbated by the introduction of invasive alien
species, brought as food sources, pets, or for pest control. Rats, cats and mongooses have devastated populations
of birds and small reptiles, while grazing rabbits, goats, pigs, and deer have denuded many landscapes. In
addition, exotic plant species such as water hyacinth ( Eichhornia crassipes) threaten the biodiversity of freshwater
ecosystems in the hotspot.
In Madagascar, the government is beginning the third phase of its national Environmental Action Plan, with an
ambitious five-year program of conservation and sustainable management activities. Today, about 2.7 percent of
Madagascar's land area (16,131 km²) is officially protected in 46 legally protected areas, including national parks,
strict nature reserves established to conserve ecosystems and special reserves designed to protect a particular
species or a group of species. At the World Parks Congress in September 2003, the president of Madagascar,
Marc Ravalomanana announced plans to triple protected area coverage over the next five years and asked for $50
million in assistance from the international community to do so. In the first six months following this announcement,
$22 million in commitments were pledged by international and local conservation organizations, international
development agencies, multilateral development banks and national governments to a Biodiversity Trust Fund that
was created in January 2005.
In 2001, Birdlife International identified 141 Important Bird Areas (IBA) covering about 54,806 km² within the
Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands Hotspot. More recently, Conservation International and other partners in
Madagascar expanded upon this work to identify a total of 132 Key Biodiversity Areas based on the distribution of
globally threatened species covering eight taxa: mammals, birds amphibians, reptiles, freshwater fish, arthropods,
gastropods and plants. Many of the Key Biodiversity Areas have been identified as potential conservation sites for
tripling the protected area network in Madagascar.
These activities to identify and safeguard the hotspot's remaining natural habitats are being implemented hand-inhand with projects that maximize and demonstrate the value of this conservation to the country. For example, in
much of Madagascar the watershed value provided by conservation of the remaining forests is of enormous
economic value to the surrounding countryside. In some Key Biodiversity Areas, ecotourism has provided a viable
source of income for local communities, such as through the famous guides association in Andasibe, near Perinet
(Analamazaotra) Special Reserve.
On the other Indian Ocean Islands, significantly less natural habitat is designated for protection, although the few
protected areas that do exist represent almost the entirety of remaining natural habitat on the islands, with the
exception of the Comoros. (Not true for the Comores) There are about 208 km² of terrestrial protected areas in the
Seychelles (46 percent of the land area, including two World Heritage Sites), while Rénion has 21 protected areas
totaling 231 km². Although the Comoros currently have no terrestrial protected areas, there is a plan under
development to establish three terrestrial national parks, in Mount Karthala on Grand Comore, Ntringui in Anjouan
and on Moheli, as well as two additional marine national parks to complement that already existing on Moheli.
Efforts at species-focused conservation represent important progress for the future of several unique species. A
number of lemur species have been bred successfully in captivity, and, in 1997, the first lemur reintroduction
program introduced captive-born black and white ruffed lemurs ( Varecia variegata, EN) into the Betampona Nature
Reserve. There are very successful combined captive breeding and community conservation programs for several
species of tortoise. The Indian Ocean Islands also boast a number of threatened bird species that have been
recovered from certain extinction: the pink pigeon ( Streptopelia mayeri, EN), Mauritius parakeet ( Psittacula eques,
CR), Mauritius kestrel ( Falco punctatus, VU), Rodrigues fody ( Foudia flavicans, VU), Seychelles warbler (
Acrocephalus sechellensis, VU), and Seychelles magpie-robin ( Copyschus sechellarum, CR).
Evergreen fire-dependent shrublands characterize the
landscape of the Cape Floristic Region, one of the world's
five Mediterranean hotspots. Home to the greatest nontropical concentration of higher plant species in the world,
the region is the only hotspot that encompasses an entire
floral kingdom, and holds five of South Africa’s 12 endemic
plant families and 160 endemic genera. The geometric
tortoise, the Cape sugar-bird, and a number of antelope
species are characteristic of the Cape Floristic hotspot.
Hotspot Original Extent (km 2)
Hotspot Vegetation Remaining (km
Endemic Plant Species
Endemic Threatened Birds
Endemic Threatened Mammals
Endemic Threatened Amphibians
Extinct Species†
extinctions since 1500.
I-IV afford higher levels of
Human Population Density (people/km
Area Protected (km
Area Protected (km
in Categories I-IV*
Hugging the coastline along the far southwestern tip of the African continent, the 78,555 km²: Cape Floristic Region
hotspot is located entirely within the borders of South Africa. It is one of the five temperate Mediterranean-type
systems on the hotspots list, and is one of only two hotspots that encompass an entire floral kingdom (the other
being New Caledonia).
The vegetation on the Cape is dominated by fynbos (an Afrikaans word for “fine bush”), a shrubland comprising
hard-leafed, evergreen, and fire-prone shrubs that thrives on the region's rocky or sandy nutrient-poor soils.
Although the region was once covered by lush rain forest, climate changes around 15 million years ago resulted in
the retreat of the forests. Trees were replaced by flammable sclerophyllous plants, and periodic fires became an
integral ecosystem process.
The Cape also includes several non-fynbos vegetation types. Of these, Renosterveld (Afrikaans for “rhinoceros
veld,” referring to the presence of the black rhinoceros ( Diceros bicornis), that used to browse there but is now
extinct in this region) is the most extensive, covering some 20 000 km². This plant community comprises a low
shrub layer, usually dominated by the renosterbos ( Elytropappus rhinocerotis), with a ground layer of grasses and
seasonally active bulbs.
Today, trees are very rare in pristine Cape landscapes and true forests occupy a mere 3,850 km², mostly in moist,
fire-protected sites on the southern coastal forelands and lower mountain slopes. The Cape forests, 10-30 meters
tall, are essentially outliers of the Afromontane forests of the high mountains of tropical Africa.
Today, a range of human activity seriously threatens the unique vegetation of the Cape Floristic Region.
Agricultural expansion has reduced lowland habitats such as the Sandplain fynbos and Coast renosterveld by 83
percent and 48 percent of their original extent, respectively. Much of what remains exists in isolated fragments in a
matrix of chemically treated agriculture. Agricultural development is encroaching on natural areas even in the
mountains, where impoverished soils previously limited agriculture; farming of rooibos tea, ( Aspalathus linearis),
honeybush tea ( Cyclopia spp.), cut flowers (mainly Proteaceae), and, of course, vineyards pose a significant threat
to the remaining vegetation.
In addition, urban encroachment and development, particularly near the city of Cape Town, is a threat to natural
habitats. Although urban and industrial areas currently occupy less than 1 percent of the land area in the hotspot,
population is growing rapidly; Cape Town's population is expected to double by the year 2025.
However, the greatest threat to this hotspot is the effect of invasive alien plant species. For decades, trees and
shrubs from other Mediterranean-type climates such as southern Australia, the Mediterranean Basin, and California
have been introduced into the region to supplement the few tree species native to the Cape. These alien species
have invaded about 70 percent of mountain and lowland fynbos, altering natural fire frequencies, diminishing
mountain-derived water production, and ultimately eliminating native species.
Overall, some 33 percent of the Cape Floristic Region has been transformed by agriculture, urbanization and
dense stands of alien invasive plants. However, only about 15,700 km², or 20 percent, is in pristine condition, being
free of invasive alien plants and subject to appropriate fire regimes.
According to the World Database on Protected Areas, about 10,859 km², representing about 14 percent of the total
land area, in the Cape Floristic Region is in protected areas, nearly all of it in IUCN categories I to IV. However, this
land is far from representative of the hotspot's full diversity; while 50 percent of the mountain landscapes are
conserved, only nine percent of the lowlands, which are the most vulnerable, are under some form of protection.
Although the high costs of land purchase and park management activities have posed serious challenges to
conservation in the region, a number of recent successes point to a more optimistic future for the hotspot's
biodiversity. These achievements have helped to strengthen the already tremendous level of public awareness
about the value of the province and its fauna and flora.
Among many promising projects is an initiative called the Working for Water Programme, which focuses on the
removal of alien plants to encourage the regeneration of native vegetation and protection of watersheds. The
program has created 3,600 jobs in the region and led to the clearing of nearly 500 km² of alien growth, one of the
most impressive efforts of its kind in the world.
There have also been a number of triumphs in the establishment of new protected areas, including the Cape
Peninsula National Park, the Cape Agulhas National Park, and the West Coast Biosphere Reserve. At a recent
meeting in Suzhou, China, UNESCO recognized the importance of this region by declaring it a World Heritage Site
for its "outstanding universal significance to humanity." Eight protected areas together comprise the Cape Floristic
Region World Heritage Site, one of which includes Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, the first time that a
botanical garden has been recognized as a world heritage site for its biodiversity. The areas included in the world
heritage site are Table Mountain, Baviaanskloof, De Hoop Nature Reserve, Boland Mountain Complex, Groot
Winterhoek Wilderness Area, Swartberg Complex, Boosmansbos Wilderness Area, and Cederberg Wilderness
Area. These eight separate protected areas total more than 553,000 hectares, making this World Heritage Site the
richest for plants in the world on a per area basis.
It is hoped that UNESCO listing will help to encourage the 'biodiversity economy' in the region, and will promote
eco-tourism and better planning and management of the region's incredibly rich natural resources, protected areas,
and scenic landscapes for the benefit of all South Africans. Already, the Cape Action Plan for the Environment, a
$6 million project funded by the GEF and World Bank, is supporting the development and implementation of a
strategic plan for sustainable conservation of the hotspot's unique flora and fauna, and a $6 million investment by
the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is being used partially to support three mega-reserves: Baviaanskloof,
Cederberg and Gouritz, and to build the capacity of previously disadvantaged local conservationists.
The Atlantic Forest of tropical South America boasts
20,000 plant species, 40 percent of which are endemic.
Yet, less than 10 percent of the forest remains. More than
two dozen Critically Endangered vertebrate species are
clinging to survival in the region, including three species of
lion tamarins and six bird species that are restricted to the
small patch of forest near the Murici Ecological Station in
northeastern Brazil. With almost 950 kinds of birds
occurring in this hotspot, there are many unique species
including the red-billed curassow, the Brazilian merganser,
and numerous threatened parrot species.
Beginning with sugarcane plantations and later, coffee
plantations, this region has been losing habitat for
hundreds of years. Now, with the increased expansion of
Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the Atlantic Forest is facing
severe pressure from the issues tied to urbanization.
Hotspot Original Extent (km 2)
Hotspot Vegetation Remaining (km
Endemic Plant Species
Endemic Threatened Birds
Endemic Threatened Mammals
Endemic Threatened Amphibians
Extinct Species†
Human Population Density (people/km
Area Protected (km
Area Protected (km
in Categories I-IV*
The Atlantic Forest or Mata Atlântica stretches along Brazil's Atlantic coast, from the northern state of Rio Grande
do Norte south to Rio Grande do Sul. It extends inland to eastern Paraguay and the province of Misiones in
northeastern Argentina, and narrowly along the coast into Uruguay. Also included in this hotspot is the offshore
archipelago of Fernando de Noronha and several other islands off the Brazilian coast.
Long isolated from other major rainforest blocks in South America, the Atlantic Forest has an extremely diverse and
unique mix of vegetation and forest types. The two main ecoregions in the hotspot are the coastal Atlantic forest,
the narrow strip of about 50-100 kilometers along the coast which covers about 20 percent of the region. The
second main ecoregion, the interior Atlantic Forest, stretches across the foothills of the Serra do Mar into southern
Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. These forests extend as far as 500-600 kilometers inland and range as high as
2,000 meters above sea level. Altitude determines at least three vegetation types in the Atlantic Forest: the lowland
forest of the coastal plain, montane forests, and the high-altitude grassland or campo rupestre
Taxonomic Group Species Endemic Species Percent Endemism
Freshwater Fishes
There are two groups of Amerindian cultures in the Atlantic Forest: the Tupi, who live along the Brazilian coast and
in the northern highlands, and the Guaraní, who live in the southern lowlands, in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.
About 134,000 Tupi and Guaraní people live in the Atlantic Forest region, including all three countries, today.
These societies have lived in the area for hundreds of years but the destruction of the Atlantic Forest in Brazil
began in earnest in the 16th century, when Portuguese, Spanish and French colonial settlements were established
along the Atlantic coast. Forests inland were cleared for timber, which was then traded for cattle to stock the
ranches that were expanding along the major rivers. In the northeast, sugar plantations were established along the
coast, leading to the near total destruction of the coastal forests.
By the early 19th century, forests in Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais and São Paulo were being cleared for timber,
cattle-ranches and, most especially, coffee plantations. The rapid of growth of the population in the region led to
urbanization, an increased demand for charcoal and firewood, and further forest clearing. Rapid economic
development in Brazil during the “economic miracle” from 1960 to 1984 brought heavy industry to southeast Brazil,
adding insult to injury with severe air and water pollution and its damaging effects on biodiversity and forests
around the cities.
The southeast is today the industrial center of Brazil, home to approximately 70 percent of Brazil’s 176 million
people and enormous sprawling cities such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte. Brazil is one of the
largest wood pulp producers in the world, with much of the country's industrial forestry operations located in the
states of Bahia, Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo in the heart of the Atlantic Forest Hotspot. Plantations are
typically monospecific stands of eucalyptus ( Eucalyptus spp.). Although recent legislation has restricted the
clearing of the remaining primary forests for plantations, enforcement is difficult and logging is still an insidious and
pervasive activity, gradually destroying the remaining fragments of the forests that once covered the entire region.
The narrow strip of coastal forest in northeastern Brazil has all but gone—only about three percent remains. The
best-preserved areas of forest in Brazil survive on the steep slopes of the coastal Serra do Mar mountains in Rio
de Janeiro, São Paulo and Paraná.
Argentina’s Misiones province has a greater proportion of its original forest cover remaining (about 45 percent or
10,000 km²). However, is too is rapidly being degraded and fragmented, which has placed the region's biodiversity
at risk. Principle activities there include the intensification and expansion of agriculture, including the cultivation of
yerba maté (Ilex paraguariensis) and tobacco; logging; clearing for plantation forestry by large pulp and paper
operations; and the proliferation of small farms due to the influx of landless peasants from other regions of
Argentina, besides Brazil and Paraguay.
Although 13 percent (11,618 km²) of Paraguay's original forest cover still exists, the forests have been intensively
clear-cut in recent years. It is being deforested to make way for agricultural development and rural settlements, and
its remaining forest patches are highly fragmented.
The end result is that destruction and degradation of the Atlantic Forest over the last 50 years has been at least as
severe as that of the previous three centuries. Only about eight percent remains of the unbroken tropical and
subtropical forests which formerly covered more than 1,233,875 km².
Many of the remaining forest fragments in the Atlantic Forest need to be protected immediately in order to
prevent species extinctions. About 23,800 km² of the remaining Atlantic Forest in Brazil is officially under
strict protection (including IUCN categories I, II, III), in 224 protected areas—108 national and state parks,
85 federal and state biological reserves and 31 federal and state ecological stations and reserves. The
private reserve system in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest is also quite extensive, totalling 443 and covering
almost 1,000 km². In Argentina, 4,598 km² are under protection in 60 protected areas of various categories,
representing about 21 percent of the original Atlantic Forest in Misiones province. There are eight protected
areas totalling 1,392 km² in the Atlantic Forest portion of eastern Paraguay, covering less than two percent
of the original extent.
In all, despite the Atlantic Forest’s grim past, the outlook for the future looks bright, thanks to the availability
of new conservation instruments, funding mechanisms and a large body of well-trained conservation
professionals. The Atlantic Forest region has been the cradle of the Brazilian environmental movement, with
the growth of NGO capacity there over the past 30 years being among the most impressive in the tropical
world. The most recent survey indicated that there were approximately 700 environmental NGOs active in
Brazil; about 30 of these have annual budgets of over $300,000 and about 20 are national in scope.
The Atlantic Forest has experienced a period of renewed interest in environmental issues, particularly in the
search for effective mechanisms of protecting biodiversity. This is a consequence of several new initiatives
emerging from public policies as well as from an increased involvement of non-governmental organizations.
Data-driven identification of conservation targets at the site level has been implemented by BirdLife
International through the Important Bird Areas program for the Atlantic forest, and work is underway to
expand this approach to define Key Biodiversity Areas that consider all taxonomic groups. These initiatives
build from expert-based priority-setting workshops promoted by the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment
that have been conducted in all of Brazil’s major biomes and incorporated as government policy through the
Brazilian Biodiversity Program. Priority-setting workshops for the Atlantic Forest were held in 1999,
coordinated by Conservation International and other institutions, and in April 2000 for the interior Atlantic
Forest, involving participants from all three countries. The results of these workshops were the identification
ofl 183 biodiversity conservation priorities in the Atlantic Forest.
Because many of the fragments and protected areas in the Atlantic Forest are threatened and too small and
isolated to maintain populations of many species over the long term, the establishment of conservation
corridors has been an important conservation strategy. These corridors link key sites by means of a matrix
of biodiversity-friendly land use and reforestation. Four conservation corridors have been identified in the
Atlantic Forest, covering about 20 percent of the total area of the region. The Pilot Program to Conserve
Brazilian Rain Forests (PP-G7), administered by the World Bank, will contribute $44 million over the next
several years to establish two corridors, one in the Atlantic Forest and one in the Amazon. The Atlantic
Forest corridor centers on southern Bahia and Espírito Santo. Other corridors include the Serra do Mar
Corridor in Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais and São Paulo, the Pernambuco corridor in Northeast Brazil, and
the Green Corridor in the interior Atlantic Forest, which was designated through an important tri-national
initiative between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay to link up important forest fragments in the three countries.
There are several major regional conservation initiatives underway in the Atlantic forest. One is the
implementation of the Central Biodiversity Corridor, sponsored by the World Bank and G-7 countries in
collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, state environmental agencies, and NGOs. Another major
initiative is the implementation of the Atlantic Forest Biosphere Reserve. The Biosphere Reserve has been
highly successful in its engagement of both government and civil society to promote policies and actions to
conserve the last remnants of Atlantic Forest. The Brazilian Natural World Heritage Sites Program is a 10year initiative, supported by UNESCO and a group of Brazilian agencies. Three of the seven Natural
Heritage Sites in Brazil are in the Atlantic Forest, and this program seeks to develop mechanisms,
competencies and skills to support key protected areas and enable local communities to pursue
development goals that are compatible with biodiversity conservation. The second major initiative related to
protected areas is a program promoted by the German Government, through the KfW Bank, in close
partnership with some of the southern and southeastern states of Brazil. A large investment was made for
the implementation of a number of Atlantic Forest protected areas in the states of Paraná, São Paulo, Minas
Gerais, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul.
Finally, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) was launched in the Atlantic Forest in 2002. CEPF
is making grants to civil society organizations along three strategic directions: (1) the “Species Protection
Program,” which focuses on the conservation threatened and endemic species; (2) “The Program for
Supporting Private Natural Heritage Reserves (RPPN)”, which assists landowners in sustainable
management of private reserves; and (3) “The Institutional Strengthening Program” which provides technical
capacity and support for small projects related to biodiversity conservation.
The flora of the Mediterranean Basin is dramatic. Its 22,500
endemic vascular plant species are more than four times the
number found in all the rest of Europe; the hotspot also
supports many endemic reptile species. As Europe’s
vacation destination, populations of threatened species are
increasingly fragmented and isolated to make way for resort
development and infrastructure. The Mediterranean monkseal, the barbary macaque and the Iberian lynx, which is
Critically Endangered, are among the region’s imperiled
Hotspot Original Extent (km 2)
Hotspot Vegetation Remaining (km 2)
Endemic Plant Species
Endemic Threatened Birds
Endemic Threatened Mammals
Endemic Threatened Amphibians
Extinct Species†
Human Population Density (people/km 2)
Area Protected (km 2)
Area Protected (km 2) in Categories I-IV*
†Recorded extinctions since 1500. *Categories I-IV afford higher levels of protection.
The largest of the world's five Mediterranean-climate regions, the Mediterranean Basin stretches west to
east from Portugal to Jordan and north to south from northern Italy to Morocco. Surrounding the
Mediterranean Sea, the hotspot's 2,085,292 km² also include parts of Spain, France, the Balkan states,
Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria, as well as around five thousand
islands scattered around the Mediterranean Sea. West of the mainland, the hotspot includes the
Macaronesian Islands of the Canaries, Madeira, the Selvages (Selvagens), the Azores, and Cape Verde.
The basin's location at the intersection of two major landmasses, Eurasia and Africa, has contributed to its
high diversity and spectacular scenery. The region boasts mountains as high as 4,500 meters, peninsulas,
and one of the largest archipelagos in the world. The climate of the Mediterranean Basin is dominated by
cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers, and rainfall ranges from as little as 100 millimeters to as much as
3,000 millimeters.
Although much of the hotspot was once covered in evergreen oak forests, deciduous and conifer forests,
eight thousand years of human settlement and habitat modification have distinctly altered the characteristic
vegetation. Today, the most widespread vegetation type is hard-leafed or sclerophyllus shrublands called
maquis or matorral, which include representatives from the plant genera Juniperus, Myrtus, Olea, Phillyrea,
Pistacia, and Quercus. This vegetation is similar in appearance to the chaparral vegetation of California and
the matorral of Chile. Some important components of Mediterranean vegetation (species of the genera
Arbutus, Calluna, Ceratonia, Chamaerops, and Larus) are relicts from the ancient forests that dominated the
Basin two million years ago. Frequent burning of maquis results in depauperate vegetation dominated by
Kermes oak ( Quercus coccifera), Cistus spp. or Sarcopoterium spinosum, all of which regenerate rapidly
after fire by sprouting or mass germination. Shrublands, including maquis and the aromatic, soft-leaved and
drought phrygana of Rosmarinus, Salvia, and Thymus, persist in the semi-arid, lowland, and coastal regions
of the Basin.
Taxonomic Group Species Endemic Species Percent Endemism
Freshwater Fishes
The Mediterranean Basin has experienced intensive human development and impact on its ecosystems for
thousands of years, significantly longer than any other hotspot. Human settlements of various forms have existed in
the area for at least 8,000 years. The greatest impacts of human civilization have been deforestation, intensive
grazing and fires, and infrastructure development, especially on the coast. Historically, Mediterranean forests were
burned to create agricultural lands and intensification has especially affected European countries. The agricultural
lands, evergreen woodlands and maquis habitats that dominate the hotspot today are the result of these
anthropogenic disturbances over several millennia. Paradoxically, grazing and fire can maintain species richness,
while in their absence, closed forests are often less diverse.
There are now roughly 300 million people living in the Mediterranean Basin. In Northern Africa, rapid population
growth and the spread of mechanized agriculture have driven the replacement of biodiversity-friendly means of
cultivation with more intensive land management systems. Water shortages and desertification are serious
problems in this area. An increased demand from northern Europe for products such as strawberries and
carnations year-round is further intensifying agriculture.
Habitat fragmentation is a serious problem in the hotspot; what original vegetation does remain exists in small
scattered patches. Furthermore, many of the endemic plant species in the basin are narrow endemics: they are
confined to very small areas, in some cases individual rock outcrops, and thus are extremely vulnerable to habitat
loss, overgrazing, and urban expansion. Indeed, it is likely that more plant species have gone extinct here than in
any other hotspot.
Tourism development has placed significant pressure on the region's coastal ecosystems. The shores of the
Mediterranean are the biggest large-scale tourist attraction in the world, with 110 million visitors arriving per year, a
figure that is expected to double in the next two decades. The construction of infrastructure and the direct impacts
of people using and trampling sensitive dune ecosystems remains a key threat to coastal areas in Turkey, Cyprus,
Tunisia, Morocco, and Greece, as well as smaller Mediterranean Islands such as the Balearics, Corsica, Sardinia,
Sicily, Crete, and the Canary and Madeira Islands.
Today, a mere five percent of the original extent of the hotspot contains relatively intact vegetation, placing the
Mediterranean Basin among the four most significantly altered hotspots on Earth.
The Mediterranean Basin has a long history of land conservation. As early as 2,000 years ago, the Romans and
Greeks set aside areas for the protection of natural resources. Nonetheless, today, protected areas still only cover
90,000 km² or 4.3 percent of the total land area, of which only 29,000 km² (1.4 percent) are in IUCN categories I to
In recognition of the valuable, but extremely threatened, natural heritage of the Mediterranean Basin, most
countries within the region are planning significant expansion of their protected area systems, especially in Turkey,
Lebanon and Syria. However, widespread development and human land-use means that many of the new
protected areas will be too small to adequately support animal populations. Many existing and proposed protected
areas suffer from pollution and water shortages, problems that will only intensify as the human population
increases in the Basin.
The establishment of biosphere reserves, which allow for the sustainable use of land and resources within reserve
borders, has proved successful in areas where state authorities recognize their value. Achieving a balance
between biodiversity conservation and human development is an important conservation strategy for the
Mediterranean. Other important conservation efforts in the area include the European Union’s Habitats Directive
(Natura 2000), which requires the Mediterranean countries of the
European Union to identify the more important natural sites and to formulate conservation responses.
Regional cooperative programs are also an important factor for conservation in the Mediterranean Basin. One
process that has established mechanisms for regional action on pollution control and conservation of the shared
marine environment is the Mediterranean Action Plan, a cooperative effort established under the aegis of the
United Nations in the mid-1970s, in response to the pollution-driven death of the Mediterranean Sea.
Future conservation efforts need to address population pressures on the land, especially in the coastal zone,
issues of infrastructure impact and connectivity, and above all, how to maintain traditional rural livelihoods in a way
that benefits biodiversity. This will require achieving sustainable levels of grazing, as well as forest and fire
Encompassing more than 2 million km² of tropical Asia, IndoBurma is still revealing its biological treasures. Six large
mammal species have been discovered in the last 12 years:
the large-antlered muntjac, the Annamite muntjac, the greyshanked douc, the Annamite striped rabbit, the leaf deer,
and the saola. This hotspot also holds remarkable endemism
in freshwater turtle species, most of which are threatened
with extinction, due to over-harvesting and extensive habitat
loss. Bird life in Indo-Burma is also incredibly diverse,
holding almost 1,300 different bird species, including the
threatened white-eared night-heron, the grey-crowned
crocias, and the orange-necked partridge.
Hotspot Original Extent (km 2)
Hotspot Vegetation Remaining (km 2)
Endemic Plant Species
Endemic Threatened Birds
Endemic Threatened Mammals
Endemic Threatened Amphibians
Extinct Species†
Human Population Density (people/km 2)
Area Protected (km
Area Protected (km 2) in Categories I-IV*
†Recorded extinctions since 1500. *Categories I-IV afford higher levels of protection.
The Indo-Burma hotspot encompasses 2,373,000 km² of tropical Asia east of the Ganges-Brahmaputra
lowlands. Formerly including the Himalaya chain and the associated foothills in Nepal, Bhutan and India, the
Indo-Burma hotspot has now been more narrowly redefined as the Indo-Chinese subregion. The hotspot
contains the Lower Mekong catchment. It begins in eastern Bangladesh and then extends across northeastern India, south of the Bramaputra River, to encompass nearly all of Myanmar, part of southern and
western Yunnan Province in China, all of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Cambodia and Vietnam,
the vast majority of Thailand and a small part of Peninsular Malaysia. In addition, the hotspot covers the
coastal lowlands of southern China (in southern Guangxi and Guangdong), as well as several offshore
islands, such as Hainan Island (of China) in the South China Sea and the Andaman Islands (of India) in the
Andaman Sea. The hotspot containes the Lower Mekong catchment.
The transition to the Sundaland Hotspot in the south occurs on the Thai-Malay Peninsula, the boundary
between the two hotspots is represented by the Kangar-Pattani Line, which cuts across the ThailandMalaysia border, though some analyses indicate that the phytogeographical and zoogeographical transition
between the Sundaland and Indo-Burma biotas may lie just to the north of the Isthmus of Kra, associated
with a gradual change from wet seasonal evergreen dipterocarp rainforest to mixed moist deciduous forest.
Much of Indo-Burma is characterized by distinct seasonal weather patterns. During the northern winter
months, dry, cool winds blow from the stable continental Asian high-pressure system, resulting in a dry
period under clear skies across much of the south, center, and west of the hotspot (the dry, northeast
monsoon). As the continental system weakens in spring, the wind direction reverses and air masses forming
the southwest monsoon pick up moisture from the seas to the southwest and bring abundant rains as they
rise over the hills and mountains.
A wide diversity of ecosystems is represented in this hotspot, including mixed wet evergreen, dry evergreen,
deciduous, and montane forests. There are also patches of shrublands and woodlands on karst limestone
outcrops and, in some coastal areas, scattered heath forests. In addition, a wide variety of distinctive,
localized vegetation formations occur in Indo-Burma, including lowland floodplain swamps, mangroves, and
seasonally inundated grasslands.
Taxonomic Group Species Endemic Species Percent Endemism
Freshwater Fishes
Indo-Burma is one of the most threatened biodiversity hotspots, due to the rate of resource exploitation and habitat
loss. Only about five percent of natural habitats remain in relatively pristine condition, with another 10 to 25 percent
of the land in damaged, but ecologically functional, condition.
Indo-Burma was one of the first places where humans developed agriculture, and has a long history of using fire to
clear land for agriculture and other needs. The need for agricultural products has only increased in recent years,
with the expansion of both human populations and markets. This has contributed to widespread forest destruction;
tree plantations (teak, rubber, oil palm) have replaced large areas of lowland forest, while coffee, tea, vegetable
crops and sugarcane plantations threaten montane and hill forests. Other threats to forests include logging, mining
for gems and ore, firewood collection, and charcoal production.
Aquatic ecosystems are also under intense development pressure in many areas. Freshwater floodplain swamps
and wetlands are destroyed by draining for wet rice cultivation, particularly in Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam.
Rivers have been dammed in order to store water to generate electricity for countries’ economic growth, or for
export to neighboring countries to generate foreign exchange earnings. Damming a river section not only
transforms that section into a large pond, but also reduces the temperature and oxygen content, and increases
river-bed erosion and water turbidity downriver. Reservoir operation procedures result in occasional or regular
flooding of sandbars, sandbanks, stretches of channel mosaic, and other habitats that would normally be exposed
during the dry season, with severe impacts on nesting bird and turtle species.
Mangroves have been converted to shrimp aquacultural ponds, while intertidal mudflats have been extensively
afforested with mangrove or intensely fished by lines of stack nets, which severely impacts their value as feeding
habitat for migratory waterbirds and other species. Moreover, sand dune ecosystems are severely threatened by
afforestation, for instance, with the Australian exotic Casuarina equisetifolia. Finally, overfishing and the increasing
use of destructive fishing techniques is a significant problem in both coastal and offshore marine ecosystems.
The combination of rapid population growth and economic development have also caused overexploitation of
natural resources to reach critical levels in the hotspot. As in the other hotspots of Southeast Asia, the wildlife
trade, particularly for the food and traditional medicine markets in China, is an enormous problem for biodiversity
conservation. The increasingly high value of products derived from some species has put them at risk even within
strictly protected areas. The Chinese demand for turtles, snakes, tigers, and other species has depleted
populations to the brink of extinction in just a few years. The volume of trade in turtles is astounding, with over ten
million individuals exported to China from Southeast Asia each year. Adults, juveniles, and eggs of all species are
harvested. The threat to plants through international and domestic trade could be just as great, but there is far less
accurate information; timber species, orchids, and other high value plants are particularly at risk. Commercial
logging has been particularly intense in lowland evergreen forests, to the point where few intact tracts remain and
stocks of some species have been exhausted commercially
Protected area systems are the cornerstones of government conservation programs in the Indo-Burma hotspot. In
total, 236,000 km² is officially protected, representing roughly 10 percent of the original extent of vegetation in the
hotspot. However, only 132,000 km² (a little under six percent) is in IUCN protected area categories I to IV.
Furthermore, not all forest types and wildlife habitats are adequately represented in this system, including lowland
wet evergreen forests, riverine habitats, mangrove forests and teak-dominated deciduous forests.
Collectively, the Lower Mekong countries (Cambodia, Lao P.D.R., Vietnam, and Thailand) have more than 13
percent of their land within a system of protected areas. In 1993, Cambodia established 23 protected areas by
Royal Decree; these areas contain over 18 percent of the kingdom's land area. Three forest conservation areas
were later established to explicitly promote biodiversity conservation. Lao P.D.R. has 20 protected areas, covering
a total of 14 percent percent of the nation’s land area. As in Cambodia, most of these protected areas were
established in 1993. Vietnam established its protected areas network in 1962, and currently has 95 protected
areas. Thailand has the most extensive system of protected areas, with about 22 percent of the nation’s land area
conserved within 250 protected areas. Formal conservation in the kingdom dates to the 1896 establishment of the
Royal Forest Department, but protected areas were only established in the early 1960s.
Elsewhere in the hotspot, Hainan Island contains 26 nature reserves, totaling about 1,190 km², that are managed
by the Forestry Department, but there are also a small number of protected areas run by other government
departments. Myanmar represents one of the best opportunities for extensive habitat protection in the hotspot,
particularly in its relatively large and undisturbed river and floodplain forest systems. A total of 38 protected areas
had been declared or officially proposed in Myanmar by 2002.
One way of ensuring that the network of protected areas adequately conserves representative biodiversity is
through the protection of species that face the greatest risk of extinction worldwide. Globally threatened species are
best protected through targeting conservation investment to the sites in which they occur; these sites are referred
to as “key biodiversity areas” (KBAs). KBAs are discrete biological units that contain one or more globally
threatened or restricted-range species, and can be managed for conservation as a single unit. In the Indo-Burma
Hotspot, the network of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) identified by BirdLife International and partner organizations
was used as a starting point, and sites important for other taxonomic groups were then added using data from the
published literature, and through consultation with experts. A total of 362 KBAs were defined for Indo-Burma during
the first phase of an iterative process; about two-thirds of these sites host threatened or restricted-range birds and
mammals. This number should increase as more data becomes available for globally threatened plants and
freshwater fish species. Of the sites defined during this initial assessment, only 229 are entirely or partly within
protected areas. Thus, many opportunities exist for conservation action outside of protected areas.
In most of the Indo-Burma hotspot, government investment in conservation is relatively limited, with most funding
directed towards staff and infrastructure development within protected areas. The exceptions are Hong Kong, India
and Thailand. Bilateral donors include Denmark, Japan, the United States, and the Netherlands. Multilateral donors
include the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Development Programme. Several
international NGOs are also active in the hotspot; examples include WWF, WCS, FFI, TRAFFIC, CI, and Wildlife
Alliance. On the other hand, corporate investment in conservation is very limited. An exception is the Hong Kongbased Kadoorie Farm and Botanical Garden, which focuses on environmental education, animal rehabilitation and
rare plant propagation, and biodiversity surveys in southern China.
The forest, woodlands, shrublands, and heath of Southwest
Australia are characterized by high endemism among plants
and reptiles. Its unique vertebrate species include the
numbat, honey possum, and the red-capped parrot. The
western swamp turtle, which hibernates for nearly eight
months of the year in response to dry conditions and hot
temperatures, may be the most threatened freshwater turtle
species in the world, although a successful conservation
program has allowed its numbers to increase. The primary
cause of habitat loss in Southwest Australia has been
agricultural expansion, which is accentuated by extensive
fertilizer use. A major threat for the native fauna has been
the introduction of ivasive alien species like foxes and cats.
Hotspot Original Extent (km 2)
Hotspot Vegetation Remaining (km
Endemic Plant Species
Endemic Threatened Birds
Endemic Threatened Mammals
Endemic Threatened Amphibians
Extinct Species†
Human Population Density (people/km
Area Protected (km
Area Protected (km in Categories I-IV*
†Recorded extinctions since 1500. *Categories I-IV afford higher levels of protection.
The Southwest Australia Hotspot occupies some 356,717 km² on the southwestern tip of Australia, in the
state of Western Australia. As defined, this hotspot comprises the Southwest Botanical Province, but
excludes the neighboring Southwestern Interzone. As this hotspot is one of five Mediterranean-type
ecosystems in the world, most rain falls during the winter months and the summers are characteristically dry.
A broad coastal plain 20-120 kilometers wide grades into gently undulating uplands, with weathered granite,
gneiss and lateritic formations. Further inland, rainfall decreases and the length of the dry season increases.
Native plants are well adapted to the nutrient-poor sandy and lateritic soils, which also support broadacre
cropping and sheep grazing. Vegetation in the province is mainly woody, comprising forests, woodlands,
shrublands, and heaths, but no grasslands. Principal vegetation types in this region are Eucalyptus
woodlands, and the Eucalyptus-dominated “mallee” shrubland. Kwongan is a term adapted from the
Aboriginal Noongar language to cover the various Western Australian types of shrubland, comparable with
the maquis, chaparral, and fynbos of other countries with Mediterranean-type systems. The principal
structural types of Kwongan are thicket, scrub-heath, and heath, which together comprise about 30 percent
of the original vegetation. A number of vegetation units are endemic, including some types of eucalyptus
forests and some forms of kwongan.
The Southwest Australia Hotspot occupies some 356,717 km² on the southwestern tip of Australia, in the
state of Western Australia. As defined, this hotspot comprises the Southwest Botanical Province, but
excludes the neighboring Southwestern Interzone. As this hotspot is one of five Mediterranean-type
ecosystems in the world, most rain falls during the winter months and the summers are characteristically dry.
A broad coastal plain 20-120 kilometers wide grades into gently undulating uplands, with weathered granite,
gneiss and lateritic formations. Further inland, rainfall decreases and the length of the dry season increases.
Native plants are well adapted to the nutrient-poor sandy and lateritic soils, which also support broadacre
cropping and sheep grazing. Vegetation in the province is mainly woody, comprising forests, woodlands,
shrublands, and heaths, but no grasslands. Principal vegetation types in this region are woodlands, and the
-dominated “mallee” shrubland. is a term adapted from the Aboriginal Noongar language to cover the
various Western Australian types of shrubland, comparable with the maquis, chaparral, and fynbos of other
countries with Mediterranean-type systems. The principal structural types of Kwongan are thicket, scrubheath, and heath, which together comprise about 30 percent of the original vegetation. A number of
vegetation units are endemic, including some types of eucalyptus forests and some forms of kwongan.
Taxonomic Group Species Endemic Species Percent Endemism
Freshwater Fishes
The greatest human impact in Southwest Australia has been the clearing of native vegetation for agriculture.
Agricultural development began in 1829, with the arrival of the first European settlers to the region.
However, because of the poor soils, development progressed slowly until the 1890s, when phosphate
fertilizers were introduced. Today, most usable private land in the region is farmed, although it requires the
application of phosphate, as well as zinc, copper, cobalt, and molybdenum. Because of the region's long dry
seasons, bush fires have traditionally been used for hunting and clearing land. Although native plants are
highly adapted to fire, the alteration or intensification of burning regimes can dramatically change the
composition and condition of the natural vegetation.
One of the most serious current threats to the natural vegetation of Southwest Australia is the spread of root
disease, or "jarrah dieback" caused by the root fungus Phytophthora cinnamomi. The disease was first
noticed in the jarrah forests in 1940 but not identified until 1965. By that time, thousands of hectares of forest
had been infected and killed. Root disease is now spreading to other habitats, including kwongan
shrublands, and in particular Stirling Range National Park, where it has caused mortality among susceptible
plants like the grass trees ( Xanthorrhoea spp.) and members of the Proteaceae, especially the Banksias.
Large-scale mining for bauxite is increasingly a threat to Southwest Australia's ecosystems; the region is
one of the largest producers of alumina in the world. Open-pit mining destroys habitats and pollutes
waterways. However, recent reclamation efforts have been successful at establishing native plants in
abandoned mine pits, a technique that holds promise for land management in the region.
Introduced alien species, especially foxes and cats, threaten native fauna and have caused major declines
in species like the numbat in Southwest Australia. Land managers have successfully poisoned these alien
species with sodium flouroacetate; amazingly, native mammals are immune to the poison because the
compound occurs naturally in the leaves of many native legumes.
Today, of the principal vegetation types found in the region, 89 percent of the Eucalyptus woodlands have
been lost, while 50 percent of the Eucalypt-dominated mallee and 59 percent of the Kwongan heath
formations have been cleared. In total, only 30 percent of the original vegetation remains in more or less
pristine condition.
A total of about 38,000 km², 11 percent of the land area in Southwest Australia, is under some form of
official protection, virtually all of it in IUCN categories I to IV. Many reserves, however, are too small to
adequately protect biological resources, and many ecosystem types are not well represented in the
protected area system. Typically, the region's reserves represent land that was unsuitable for farming in the
early days of settlement. Arable lands are almost exclusively privately owned, and a number of rare species
are found only on these private lands.
Southwest Australia represents one of the best opportunities for long-term conservation among the hotspots
because of its relatively low population density. However, immediate action is necessary to ensure the
survival of the region's unique and highly threatened flora and fauna. In addition to maintaining the integrity
of existing protected areas, the current network should be expanded through the creation of new reserves
from private and public lands to represent species and ecosystems not yet protected.
There are a number of conservation programs and projects currently operating in Southwest Australia. The
Western Shield Program, run by the Department of Conservation and Land Management, is working to bring
at least 13 native fauna species back from the brink of extinction by controlling introduced predators, the fox
and feral cat. The main weapon in the fight against these predators is the use of the naturally occurring
poison 1080, found in native plants called gastrolobiums or 'poison peas'. While the native animals have
evolved with these plants and have a high tolerance to the poison, introduced animals do not.
Project Eden is the arid scientific conservation component of Western Shield. This project uses innovative
techniques to eradicate feral herbivores and predators and rejuvenate 105,000 hectares of arid zone habitat
on Peron Peninsula at Shark Bay for threatened native fauna, and, to promote their reintroduction into the
A project focused on the ecology, abundance and predator dynamics of threatened Shark Bay mammals,
has been run by the Sustainable Ecosystems program of CSIRO, the Australian national research agency,
in partnership with a local salt mining community at Useless Loop for the past 16 years. This work has
studied in detail the life cycle of some of Australia’s most threatened animals on Bernier and Dorre Islands
and has reintroduced the western barred bandicoot and burrowing bettong, two species extirpated on the
Australian mainland, to Heirisson Prong.
Other conservation projects in Southwest Australia include community-based recovery programs for the
threatened Carnaby's black-cockatoo, western ground parrot, dibbler, noisy scrub-bird and malleefowl.
These involve organizations such as Birds Australia, WWF, CSIRO, Department of Conservation and Land
Management and local Landcare groups.