GAIA: Hotspots the Key to Species Survival

Over a third of the Earth's species exist exclusively on 1.4% of its land. Consequently, say the authors of an article in Nature, conservationists just need to focus on safeguarding 25 species-rich ``hotspots'' - mostly tropical rain forests.

RIC comments: This arguments used by the authors confirm the importance of tropical forests. Conserving species in the manner suggested would be far better than not conserving them at all. However this should not be taken as an excuse to continue plundering all the other parts of the planet on the basis that species are being preserved in special hotspots. A museum-like preservation of species in a few areas falls far short of living in harmony with the rest of the planet.

World's Life Crowded Into Small Area

By Rick Callahan

More than a third of the planet's plant and animal species exist exclusively on a scant 1.4 percent of its land surface, researchers reported today in the journal Nature. The researchers said their findings show that saving a large share of the world's species from extinction isn't an overwhelming task. They believe conservationists just need to focus on safeguarding 25 species-rich ``hotspots'' - mostly tropical rain forests.

``The whole point of this is that for a few hundred million dollars a year, focused on these hotspots, we can go a long way toward guaranteeing maintenance of the full range of diversity of life on Earth,'' said Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International, and one of the study's authors. The British-American team led by Norman Myers of Oxford University relied on previous research to tally the numbers of land species that inhabit Earth's remaining pristine forests, grasslands and other habitats. Fish and insects were excluded. Because some of the tropical areas remain unexplored, the researchers had to rely on experts' best estimates. Mittermeier said some of the researchers were surprised by the riot of life they found occupying such a small portion of land.

The team identified 25 ``hotspots'' covering a total of 810,000 square miles. That relatively tiny expanse sustains 44 percent of Earth's plant species and 35 percent of its non-fish vertebrate animal species. Thirty-eight percent of that area already enjoys some form of legal protection.

But Mittermeier said much of that is what conservationists call ``paper parks'' - lands that are protected on paper but where logging, mining and grazing are often rampant. The researchers hope governments, corporations and private donors see that the challenge of protecting the remaining 62 percent is not overwhelming.

Their paper suggests that conservationists should use a ``silver bullet'' approach and concentrate on saving pieces of the hotspots from logging, slash-and-burn agriculture or other fates. Some of the richest hotspots are in Madagascar, Brazil, the tropical Andes, the Caribbean, and Borneo, Sumatra and other islands in Southeast Asia. ``Surely the resources can be found to protect this 1.4 percent of the planet. That's not an awful lot of land to contain so much of the biodiversity of the world,'' said Edward Wilson, a professor at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Source: Associated Press Feb 22