A boy in a basin navigates through a floating village in Tonle Sap Great Lake, Cambodia, on September 13, 2009.
The lakes, rivers, and floodplains of the Indo-Burma region (see map) crisscross one of the world's top ten at-risk forest biodiversity hot spots, according to a new ranking created by the nonprofit Conservation International. Biodiversity hot spots, first defined in 1988, are areas that conservationists deem most critical for saving species.
The areas included in the 2011 report each harbor at least 1,500 native plant species but have lost 90 percent or more of their original habitats. The report was compiled to coincide with the United Nations' International Year of Forests. (See "Tigers, Elephants Returning to War-Torn Cambodia Forest.")
Forests cover only 30 percent of the planet's area but are home to 80 percent of the world's land animals and plants, according to the conservation group. In addition to housing diverse species, forests provide "vital benefits" for humans, including timber, food, shelter, recreation, fresh water, and erosion prevention, according to Olivier Langrand, Conservation International's international policy chief.
"Forests are being destroyed at an alarming rate to give room to pastures, agricultural land, mineral exploitation, and sprawling urban areas, but by doing so we are destroying our own capacity to survive," Langrand said in a statement.