Picture a tropical forest in your imagination. What comes to mind? Large, thick trees? Green foliage? A warm, wet climate? Millions of insects, plants, and animals? If you imagined this, you would not be far off. This abundance of life is known as biodiversity, all types of living organisms within a given area. In 1988, environmentalist Norman Myers set out to define the world’s most biodiverse areas in decline so they could be protected. He published a paper identifying 10 biodiversity hotspots with unique plant species and serious habitat loss. Comparatively, these places contain more species than 97.5 percent of the rest of Earth. In this paper, he outlined two criteria to qualify an area as a biodiversity hotspot:

  • The region must have at least 1,500 vascular plant species found nowhere else on Earth (known as an endemic species). Vascular plants have tissues arranged in unique patterns and allow the plant to transport fluid. There are two different types of vascular tissues, called xylem and phloem. 

  • The region must have lost at least 70 percent of its original recorded surface area

As of 2022, there are 36 official biodiversity hotspots around the world. Scientists have observed that although biodiversity hotspots are currently composed of approximately 2.5 percent of the land, they are home to nearly 43 percent of Earth’s known endemic mammals, reptiles, and bird species, as well as more than half of the world’s endemic plant species. Biodiversity hotspots are also home to around two billion humans, many of whom rely on healthy ecosystems for their survival and wellbeing. Although a few of these hotspots hold some of the highest human population densities on the planet, environmentalists suspect that much of human-environment impacts are due to human activities, such as reshaping natural habitats for farmland/large-scale food production or the over-exploitation of species through hunting and wildlife trade, as opposed to human population density

This map layer was created by Conservation International, an investor in the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), and visualizes the 36 official biodiversity hotspots.

In 1989, Conservation International adopted Myers’ hotspot criteria and in 1996, they reassessed Myers’ hotspots, as well as examined new areas they believed he overlooked. After a three-year review, Conservation International designated 25 biodiversity hotspots globally. By 2005, this number rose to 34, based on analyses from nearly 400 specialists. An additional two biodiversity hotspots have been identified since 2010. The first was in 2011, when researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), identified the Forests of East Australia to be the 35th biodiversity hotspot. Then in February of 2016, the North American Coastal Plain was recognized as Earth’s 36th biodiversity hotspot.

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund works to support the development of conservation strategies by building long-term local conservation leadership and nurturing sustainable development in order to protect biodiversity hotspots. Since 2000, CEPF has granted over 271 million U.S. dollars to over 2,500 civil society organizations and individuals. They have also worked to conserve more than 900 species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, and have improved the management and protection of 50.3 million hectares (~124 million acres) of key biodiversity areas.


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animal
Noun

organisms that have a well-defined shape and limited growth, can move voluntarily, acquire food and digest it internally, and can respond rapidly to stimuli.

Noun

all the different kinds of living organisms within a given area.

bird
Noun

egg-laying animal with feathers, wings, and a beak.

climate
Noun

all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

Noun

low, flat land lying next to the ocean.

Noun

management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.

Noun

community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

endemic
Adjective

native to a specific geographic space.

environmentalist
Noun

person who studies or works to protect the Earth's ecosystems.

farmland
Noun

area used for agriculture.

foliage
Noun

leaves of a plant, or the leaves and branches of a tree or shrub.

Noun

environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

hotspot
Noun

area that contains a significant level of biodiversity and is threatened with destruction.

imagination
Noun

creative thoughts.

insect
Noun

type of animal that breathes air and has a body divided into three segments, with six legs and usually wings.

leadership
Noun

ability to guide and direct people and organizations.

mammal
Noun

animal with hair that gives birth to live offspring. Female mammals produce milk to feed their offspring.

organism
Noun

living or once-living thing.

plant
Noun

organism that produces its own food through photosynthesis and whose cells have walls.

Noun

the number of people living in a set area, such as a square mile.

Noun

any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

reptile
Noun

animal that breathes air and usually has scales.

species
Noun

group of similar organisms that can reproduce with each other.

surface area
Noun

amount of exposed land, water, or other material.

sustainable
Adjective

able to be continued at the same rate for a long period of time.

tissue
Noun

cells that form a specific function in a living organism.

tree
Noun

type of large plant with a thick trunk and branches.

tropical forest
Noun

woodland that features a canopy, tropical climate, and 254 or more centimeters (≥100 inches) of rainfall per year.

vascular plant
Noun

group of plants which have specific tissues for transporting water and minerals throughout the plant.

xylem
Noun

tissue in vascular plants that carries water and dissolved minerals from the roots and provides support for softer tissues.