Published: Thursday 15 September 2005

Depleting resources
The term 'biodiversity hotspot' wasn't even coined until the late 1980s. A couple of years after a scholarly paper identified 18 such spots, Conservation International (CI) adopted the idea as its central cause. Now the approach dominates international conservation efforts.

To qualify, a region must contain at least 1,500 endemic plant species and must have lost at least 70 per cent of its original area. Despite such stringent thresholds, a 1999 CI study found that the world's hotspots accounted for an astonishing 44 per cent of the earth's plants and 35 per cent of its terrestrial vertebrates. At that time, those 25 regions were depleted by close to 90 per cent of their original size.

Now a second major study has updated that information. The results, available in the website under review, represent the most up-to-date and accessible information on the world's biological diversity.

The most basic of the new findings may also be some of the most critical: in the mere five years since the last study, the number of regions deemed hotspots has jumped dramatically to 34. Among the new nine is the Himalaya, which joins two previously designated South Asian hotspots -- the Western Ghats and Indo-Burma. Amazingly, for the rapidly dwindling amount of land the hotspots constitute -- just 2.3 per cent of the earth's surface -- their levels of biodiversity remain extremely high.

Such findings should only reinvigorate global conservationists.

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