Biodiversity hotspots – a world at risk

Lonesome GeorgeWith Lonesome George an international icon for conservation has died (although there are still chances that his subspecies of the Pinta Island tortoise (Chelonoidis abingdoni) will continue to exist). The extinction rate of endangered species however remains high and some say may even be the Earth’s sixth mass extinction. Less controversially it can be stated that the current extinction rates are higher than one would expect without humankind’s influence, and that more action to preserve the environment is needed.
Lonesome George’s death happened just after the Rio+20 Earth Summit which discussed a ‘Pathway for a sustainable future‘. Despite the usual obstacles and compromises that are needed to bring a joint statement of all UN member states down to a common denominator, there is a general acknowledgement by most governments that the conservation of nature is essential for a sustainable future of humankind.
The hotspots of biodiversity identified by Conservation International aim to draw a global picture of the richest and the most threatened reservoirs of plant and animal life (read more at Mittermeier et al.). In my PhD research (see page 172 in the thesis) I used that data to demonstrate the application of gridded population cartograms in combination with environmental data. Shown on the population projection the map of biodiversity hotspots draws a picture of the most threatened unique ecosystems in their setting in and around human populations. A potential value of such a map could be a picturesque depiction of the human impact on the biosphere. An interesting aspect in this display is the combination of information of threatened biosphere in relation to humans as the dimension that poses the threat:

Cartogram / Map of Global Biodiversity Hotspots at risk
(click for larger version)

Biodiversity conservation provides substantial benefits to meet immediate human needs, such as those for clean, consistent water flows; protection from floods and storms; and a stable climate” (quoted from Conservation International). The IUCN states, that biodiversity is an integral part of the diversity of our lives, linking the human and physical environments of our planet: “Diversity-biological as well as social, linguistic and cultural diversity-is the lifeblood of sustainable development and human welfare. It is key to resilience-the ability of natural and social systems to adapt to change and is essential for nearly every aspect of our lives.
A better understanding and an increased awareness for human impact and threats on the environment is essential for a more sustainable future living. For George, any conservation efforts come too late and he was not blessed with a little family of his own. Living in the biodiversity hotspot of Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena (as shown on the map), he almost joined the four known extinct species there (until it was discovered later in 2012 that there may be more of his likes around), while (at least) 39 other animal species, and 2750 plant species still fight for survival in this hotspot area that “extends for 1,500 kilometers and encompasses 274,597 km² along the western coastal flank of the Andes mountains“.

“The world’s most remarkable places are also the most threatened. These are the Hotspots: the richest and most threatened reservoirs of plant and animal life on Earth.” (CI)

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