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Biodiversity Hotspots

Global priorities for biodiversity conservation based on large-scale ecoregions

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Biodiversity hotspots are a method to identify those regions of the world where attention is needed to address biodiversity loss and to guide investments in conservation. First developed by Norman Myers in 1988 to identify tropical forest ‘hotspots’ characterized both by exceptional levels of plant endemism and by serious levels of habitat loss. Myers subsequently updated the concept in 1990, adding eight hotspots, including four in Mediterranean regions. Conservation International adopted Myers’ hotspots as its institutional blueprint in 1989, and in 1996, the organization made the decision to undertake a reassessment of the hotspots concept, including an examination of whether key areas had been overlooked. Three years later an extensive global review was undertaken, which introduced quantitative thresholds for the designation of biodiversity hotspots.1 Currently, 34 biodiversity hotspots have been identified, most of which occur in tropical forests. Between them they contain around 50% of the world’s endemic plant species and 42% of all terrestrial vertebrates, but have lost around 86% of their original habitat.2


Supported by

Conservation International (CI)


Year of creation



Global in extent



To qualify as a hotspot, a region must meet two strict criteria: it must contain at least 1,500 species of vascular plants (> 0.5% of the world’s total) as endemics, and it has to have lost ≥ 70% of its original native habitat.3



Hotspots are not formally recognised or governed areas. However, the identification of these areas as hotspots increases the likelihood of conservation investment. In addition, other designations for biodiversity conservation are likely to be present within these broad areas which may have more formal management structures. For example, the average protected area coverage of hotspots, based on IUCN protected area categories I-VI, is 10% of their original extent.2


Business relevance:

Legal and compliance – An area is not required to have legal protection for identification as a Hotspot. Any legal protection and compliance, if applicable, will mainly be of other areas of biodiversity importance whose parts or entire area come under the Hotspots. They are, however, referred to in some environmental safeguard standards such as those of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative4 which require that procurement promotes the conservation of Biodiversity Hotspots.

Biodiversity – The biodiversity importance of hotspots is due to the high vulnerability of habitats and high irreplaceability of species found within large geographic regions. This means that these areas and the species present within them are both under high levels of threat and of significant global value based on their uniqueness. Therefore, operations that occur within global biodiversity hotspots should follow rigorous biodiversity assessments to prevent further biodiversity loss within these areas. This is a global scale approach based on coarse scale ecoregions that therefore, has limited use for site-scale assessment and decision making. Biodiversity hotspots will include areas of high biodiversity importance as well as degraded land and urban areas and therefore more detailed assessments are needed to locate the actual distribution of biodiversity within these areas.

Social-cultural – Biodiversity hotspots can include a variety of human land-uses, rural and urban, as well as protected areas under a range of possible governance types therefore many social and/or cultural values are likely to be present in some parts. This however is irrespective of the identification of the area as a biodiversity hotspot.



  • The Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT) for business provides a visualisation and GIS download tool for protected areas and prioritisation approaches, including Biodiversity hotspots.


  1. Myers, N., Mittermeier, R.A., Mittermeier, C.G., da Fonseca G.A.B., Kent, J. (2000) Biodiversity Hotspots for Conservation Priorities. Nature 403(6772):853-8
  2. Mittermeier, R.A., Gil, P.R., Hoffmann, M., Pilgrim, J., Brooks, T., Mittermeier, C.G., Lamoreux, J., da Fonseca, G.A.B. (2004) Hotspots revisited. Cemex: Mexico City, Mexico.
  3. Information by Conservation International on biodiversity hotspots, including an overview of all those identified, and area legally protected per hotspot
  4. SFI (2010) Sustainable Forestry Initiative 2010-2014 Standard. Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Washington, D.C., U.S.A
  5. Brooks, T. M., Mittermeier, R. A. , da Fonseca, G. A. B., Gerlach, J., Hoffmann, M., Lamoreux, J. F., Mittermeier, C. G., Pilgrim, J. D. and Rodrigues, A. S. L. (2006) Global Biodiversity Conservation Priorities. Science 313 (5783), 58.


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