Environmental Hotspots Not Easy to Spot

A new study published in the journal Nature has revealed that the Andes Mountains are the only biodiversity hotspot on the entire planet that merit conservation on the grounds of a wide variety of species overall, high extinction threat and high endemism (species found only in one specific area).

David Orme from the Imperial College London, along with his colleagues, used the global distribution of bird species to try and find out how different measures of environmental and conservation importance correlated. They looked at three criteria usually used to focus conservation efforts - species richness, extinction threat and endemism - and checked them against geographical location.

Findings revealed that only 2.5 percent of all known hotspots filled all of these criteria, all located in the Andes Mountains. Areas that contained high species diversity were mostly located in mountains on the major continents, but these areas were generally not highly threatened and did not contain many endemic species.

Large islands and archipelagos were found to be facing higher threat risks, and also contained many endemic species, but did not have a high overall species diversity. Orme concluded that human impacts have had a strong influence on where species are under threat, which does not necessarily tie in with the biological systems that produce high biodiversity or create endemic species.

With official funding for conservation decreasing, conservation efforts are increasingly trying to focus on the most worthy causes. Orme suggests that in order to identify areas of high conservation priority, several different ways of measuring diversity should be used.

Kruger National Park - South African Safari