Conservationists Name Nine New "Biodiversity Hotspots"

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Myers reasoned that a prudent conservation strategy would be to target dollars and research at those regions where these threats are greatest to the greatest number of species.

In the mid-1990s, together with partners at Conservation International, Myers ironed out a formula for hotspot designation: The region must support at least 1,500 plant species found nowhere else in the world, and it must have lost at least 70 percent of its original habitat.

"Quite frankly, all biodiversity is important, that's the bottom line … but we have limited resources and limited time, so we have to become strategic in how we go about things," Hoffmann said.

According to Duke University's Pimm, the areas Conservation International has identified as biodiversity hotspots come as little surprise to conservation biologists. They've been working in them for years.

"In these places the vast majority of species that are teetering on the brink of extinction are found," he said. "If you care about species not going extinct, that almost immediately means you are working in hotspots."

Successful Implementation

According to Hotspots Revisited, about 750 million U.S. dollars has gone into biodiversity hotspot conservation over the last 15 years. That funding includes significant grants from the MacArthur Foundation, which is widely regarded as a pioneer in hotspot conservation.

"The concept has been remarkably successful in catalyzing some really significant funding from donors that has allowed us to channel resources into these places," Hoffmann said.

Madagascar, for example, is on a roll. At the 2003 World Parks Congress in South Africa, Madagascar's President Marc Ravalomanana pledged to triple the size of the nation's protected-area network and asked the conservation community for help. To date, more than 35 million U.S. dollars has been raised.

But not all hotspots are experiencing such success. According to Conservation International, Southeast Asia's Sundaland hotspot—which includes the islands of Sumatra, Java, and Borneo—is deteriorating rapidly in the face of unabated commercial logging and agriculture expansion.

Also, the conservation community has yet to fully embrace the biodiversity hotspot strategy.

Peter Karveiva, a scientist with the Nature Conservancy in Seattle, Washington, said the hotspot approach to conservation is effective at protecting long lists of species. But, he said, it fails to maintain important ecosystem services that all humans need to survive. "Biodiversity hotspots should always be a factor in deciding where we work and should always be a major part of conservation planning," he said. "But we need to supplement our maps of species richness with maps of carbon storage, of fisheries production, of clean water, of agricultural systems, and so forth."

Hoffman said that failure to protect the hotspots would result in the loss of nearly 50 percent of Earth's plants and terrestrial vertebrates.

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